Grandad’s Diary 18th-23rd February 1945

Entries from 18th – 25th February 1945

18th Feb: Floods steadily subsiding after 8 weeks.Everybody cutting down trees for firewood coal costing £2/18/- Cwt went to Ghent 55 miles away. Shops very dear.

19th Feb: Lovely old church and cathedral. Orchestra in NAAFI. Long day there but enjoyable. Went to cinema there. ‘Fanny by Gaslight’ Met Peter Highfield on 967 Sqdn.

20th Feb: Lovely weather but not much sleep. Doing well on black M. market. Many doodies over, after shipping on Scheldt.

21st Feb: Narrow escpae from doodie. Saw one unexploded en route for Blighty. Headache probably due to Doodies and loss of sleep.

22nd Feb: On pass. Took snaps and went to St. Nicholas. About cheapest shopping centre. Good black market. One of the boys suffering from shock from nearby doodie. Near to us.

23rd Feb: Busy these days long days too. Laying off beer. Most cafes with attractive looking girls to overcome poor quality of beer. Not worth the money.

There is a growing sense in Grandad’s posts of the impact of the ‘Doodies’ (Doodlebugs: V1 Flying Bombs) on the troops. Whilst he has not referred to any casualties, the constant threat of them seems to becausing stress-related headaches and ‘shock’.

Fanny by Gaslight was a 1944 film that was very popular in Britain.

I love that he saw past the ‘attractive girls’ at the cafes and decided to save his money by avoiding the poor quality beer.

Grandad’s Diary. 15th February 1945

Entry for 15 Feb

Horses pulling heavy loads. Dogs pulling carts. Collection of twigs and parts of trees everywhere. Unexploded doodle bug fell on other side of street from Billet, damaging store. No casualties.

I’ve really been struck by the contrasts in Grandad’s Diary far. Just a few days ago he was writing about the ‘wonderful complexions’ and well-dressed Belgians he was seeing around Blankenberge. In today’s entry he paints a picture of road-weary refugees, damage and destruction.

Grandad’s Diary. 13-14th February 1945

Entry for 13-14 Feb

Surprising number of farms hit by doodle bugs. Little girl here Marie wonderful warning for V bombs. Dashes away long before we hear them. Most kiddies similar. Eggs from farms 3 for soap go 7 fumes each. Met P. Highfield and G. Kendal

There is an interesting observation in this entry that the sharp hearing of most children was good enough to give a warning for incoming V1 flying bombs.

Given the random, untargeted nature of the V1, the fact that so many farms had been hit by them indicated just how many had been sent to hit Belgium once London was out of range.

I think I haven’t quite translated the penultimate sentence correctly – Grandad seems to be saying that he can barter eggs from the farm in which his is billeted for soap and cigarettes (fumes), but I’m not sure of this, because I cannot find any indication that ‘fumes’ was a slang for cigarettes.

Grandad’s Diary. 11th February 1945

Entries from 11-17th February 1945

On Scheldt Estuary. Still plenty of water from floods. Bartering for eggs. Plenty of D bugs around. Saw British jet planes.

I’m pretty sure that the jet planes Grandad saw were the Gloster Meteor, as these were the only jet planes that saw service by the British in the 2nd World War. That must have been an exciting and encouraging sight as it was superior technology to the ubiquitous Doodlebug flying bomb that was still causing problems. I included a bit of detail about the V1 flying bomb in yesterday’s post.

I love the contrast between the rather prosaic need for eggs and this new technology – jet engines.

Grandad’s Diary. 10th February 1945

Entry for 10th Feb

Left late. Passing through Ghent St. Nicholas. Wonderfully straight roads. dogs pulling carts. St. Nich one time Jerry officials rest house. Pro-German. Landed at Doel. Warm reception with several doodlebugs close by. ‘D’-bomb alley here.

Ah. Action.

Grandad has left the comfort of touristy Blankenberge and has crossed into the war zone. And while this does not mean man-to-man fighting, it does mean the constant threat of V1 bombs – doodlebugs.

I see that Doel, close to Antwerp which was mentioned in an earlier post as a potential destination for Grandad, is now scheduled for demoliton to make war for the expanding port of Antwerp.

The V1 flying bomb had been developed by the Luftwaffe and was used during the Summer of 1944 as a ‘vengeance weapon’ for the terror bombing of London. By October 1944 however, the last V1 site in range of London had been overrun by Allied forces and so the doodlbeugs were targeted at Antwerp to stall the Allied advance. Exactly where Grandad was.

I’m intrigued by the phrase ‘Pro-German’. I wonder if it means that St. Nicholas had been pro-German, or it still was? And if the latter was the case, did the ‘liberating’ forces receive hostility and vitriol from the locals?