Grandad’s Diary 25th-31st March 1945

Entries for the week beginning 25th March 1945

25th March – Spent several hours sunning on the shore lovely place for it. Called “Blackpool of Belgium.” How these people dress. Men effeminate, women so neat & fetching.

26th March – Plenty of mines still about. One soldier had narrow escape treading on mine in ruined house and got away with scratches. People and people ********. Masses of troops here now.

27-28th March – Went to Ostende plenty of shops and canteens. Could have good night life there I imagine. Returned by tram.. Many more casualties on beach by mines. Crowds by beach last week-end yet no accidents. Today soldiers due for leave tomorrow were blown up and killed. Beach roped off and out of bounds.

29th March – Went to Bruges. Prices up since last week. Visited Knocke full of troops. This place was well fortified and like many more will take ages to clear up.

30th March – Nothing to remind me of Easter apart from crowds going to Church. Otherwise all normal in town. Fed up here and wishing for more. Sent parcel home.

31st March – More at last. Standing by for Rhine job. Still no mail. Issued with khaki again. On way tomorrow. 200 miles trip. 27 us volunteers. Trip uneventful and monotonous. Country same throughout feat. pastoral, long straight roads. Plenty of cafes. Through Antwerp under mile long tunnel. Great damage glad to be away from there. Through Belgium.

I get a real sense of tension from this week. It’s as though Grandad preferred the operations in the farmsteads and being back in Blankeberge and waiting for whatever comes next is worse.

This sense of tension is amplified by the mines on the beach – the “Blackpool of Belgium” hiding these terrible explosive secrets. How awful it is to hear of the soldiers about to return home and yet to lose their lives the day before they get to go home, just as they are beginning to relax.

And now Grandad is on his way to beyond Belgium – past all the horrors of war-torn Antwerp and closer to the front line. I wonder what comes next?

I just can’t get that word in the 26th March entry: “confidence”, “coincidence”, “energetic”? I can’t tell and that sentence doesn’t make sense to me anyway.

Grandad’s Diary. 19-24th March 1945

Entries for this week.

19th – 21st March. Lull in doodies but getting up earlier for operations. Other flight standing by for move to Rhine. Wonder if we will go. heard that Bill Whatling was over here on craft. also Jock Phillips. Smashing weather and plenty of work. Joined by crew from other flight. This squadron with very little systems for operational duties. Many bombers passing on way to Germany. Rockets on way to England. Not heard from Tom.

22nd March. More gen (duff) as to what is likely to happen. Rhine most popular fancy. Definitely going to Blankenberge on Saturday.

23rd March. Talking to man from St. Nichs on jetty. First time in 5 years he had seen Scheldt. Told of German hardships. Brother fined 100,000 francs for celebrating publicly loss of Bismarck.

24th March. 60,000 Jerries passed through Dock port. Left for Blank. Sorry to leave, especially the good people in the billet, and don’t fancy staying in Blank too long. Only 2 crews return. No idea what is happening to the others. We are not popular with the heads of our own squadron.

This is the week that Grandad is on the move again. The Doodlebug threat is lessening and while the odd V2 rocket still flies past to England, more and more Allied bombers are seen going the other way. The tide turned back at D-Day and now is beginning to race into Germany itself, with talk of Grandad’s unit being moved to the Rhine.

It’s still only talk though. His use of the RAF slang word ‘duff’ indicates that he knows the men are just gossiping about it. In fact, there are some interesting insights into the Balloon ‘Flights’ here. It seems that Grandad is not that impressed with the other flight – their systems are just not up to scratch. Also, Grandad does not think the high-ups in the squadron are impressed with the ballon units. This could be Grandad hinting at the other flight having broughr both local balloon units a bad reputation, or it could be that by now the commanders have realised that the balloon units are not that effective at a tactical level. I can’t tell.

It’s nice to hear Grandad mentioning some names of friends. I have no idea who Tom is and why he should be significant.

And finally the insight that is most fascinating to me is hearing views from the locals. We hear again of the difficulties of living under occupation – the man at the jetty tells his story of his brother landing an almighty fine from the German authorities for celebrating the loss of the Bismarck. The Bismark’s success in sinking HMS Hood, symbol for Rule Britannia, had hurt British morale badly at the lowest point of the war for the UK, so the sinking of the Bismark must have had a similar impact on German forces, hence the harsh fine.

Grandad’s Diary. 9th-10th March 1945

Entries for 9-10 March 1945

Ever increasing number of ships going to Antwerp. Jerry after them with his doodies. Greatest scare yet. At dawn on operations saw doodie coming down. All of us made dive for dyke certain that this was it, but it fall some distance away. All badly nerved. Many doodies shot down. Big barrage now. Doodies falling all around sites. One on nearby farm killing one lady.

A near miss. The doodlebug bombardment continues for Grandad. Despite the increasing array of barrage balloons that Grandad is responsible with his unit for setting up, the Doodlebug terror seems to increase and sadly one lady loses her life.

On the Barrage Balloon Reunion Club‘s website there is a page dedicated to Operation Crossbow – the operation which defined how Britain would respond to the V1 threat during 1944. I wonder if the new technology was also used overseas or whether the limitations of transporting the balloons meant that only the basic barrage balloon could be set up.

Grandad’s Diary. 4th March 1945

Entries for 4th -10th March 1945

Three cafes closed in St. Nich for B.M. Raided by police and everything confiscated. Mary gave us pancakes Very nice too. Sunday big day for locals. All dressed up, promenade the town after church. men to cafes.

A nice insight here into life returning to normality on a Sunday in Belgium. Despite the constant threat of the Germans Vengeance Weapons, the locals are getting into their Sunday best and enjoy the day.

I think I’ve identified the mistake in my previous post – the ‘Mary’ in the post is an actual person who runs the billet or farm where Grandad is staying. It makes better sense now…

The B.M. Grandad refers to is the Black Market that seems to be the way that everyone buys and sells what they need. However it looks as though the authorities are beginning to crack down on it – another example of normality returning.

Grandad’s Diary. 26th February – 2nd March 1945

Entries for week beginning 25th March 1945

26th February. Bad stomach detached from flight to wing. Everybody looking out for Soir de Paris scent but all bought up.

27th February. Suppose next supplies will be dearer. Plenty of Doodies falling near. Awful suspense waiting to see where thing falls and waiting for it to cut out.

28th February. New falls affect nerves for short periods. One fell on sites killing 5 in farmhouse.

1st-2nd March. Fair bit of business this week. Tiger bargainers these people. Bought and bartered plenty of eggs. Peculiar how market has demand for certain items for so long, then changes to other items. People undercutting mob, themselves and others.

Grandad is increasingly merging entries acorss days in his diary, making it difficult to work out when he has written each entry, hence some of the above confusion. I’m just making my best guess.

Again in these posts we see the contrast during life at war. One one day, Grandad is trying to buy some of the famous ‘Soir de Paris’ (Evening in Paris) scent, invented by perfumer Ernest Beaux in 1928, discontinued in 1969 and then relaunched in 1992. On another day he learns of 5 deaths killed by a Doodlebug in a farmhouse at a site which is suppsoed to be protected by one of Grandad’s barrage balloons. It must have been very difficult to live in a time of such contrasts.

Grandad’s Diary. 25th February 1945

Entries for 25th Feb – 3rd March 29145

Town crier calling for volunteers to work filling in crates on dykes. about 50 with own spades. Having a bath at St. Nicholas and saw Bill Heywood in charge of bath!

In the previous entry, Grandad mentioned that a Doodlebug had fallen on the dyke. The work the following day must have been to get the damage repaired – pretty important work in the Low Countriees.

I wonder why the exclamation mark. Could it be that Bill Heywood would be the last person to take a bath, let alone be in charge of one?

It’s good to hear of the friendships that continued even in such difficult times.

Grandad’s Diary. 24th February 1945

Entry for 24th Feb

Officers in black market racket. One for ever covering his haversack. On guard while fast asleep aroused by doodie ffalling on dyke. Not properly awaked but nerves affected for half an hour. probably reason why so many suffer from headaches, subconcious taking shocks.

There are a couple of words here I’m not sure of: ‘covering’ and ‘nerves’. They are the words that ‘fit’ best with the context, but I could be wrong.

There is more evidence here of the growing impact of the Doodlebugs – the constant threat of them taking its toll on the menatl health of the soldiers.

I’m not sure what he means by the officers – whether they were leading the black market racket, or whether their presence meant those involved had to be more careful that they weren’t caught.

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. 17th february 1945

Entry for 17 Feb

Lull in weather. Snaps plentiful in these parts. Evidently Jerry allowed free use of cameras helping his trade no doubt. Saw some snaps of floods and Jerry evacuations. Many horses left here.

The weather was presumably very important to Grandad, as it would have effected how much hydrogen to put in the barrage balloons. A lull in the weather was probably a good thing.

The German evacuation of Belgium, which they had occupied for 5 years was probably very significant to Grandad and the British troops, not least because around 400 000 Belgians were tried after the war for collaborating witht he Nazis, presumably some of those ‘snapped’ trying to leave would have been Belgians once loyal to their German overlords.

Grandad’s Diary. 16th February 1945

Very many V. bombs today. Went to St. Nicholas for bath. Big black market centre. Busy on operations these days.

Again – the contrasts. There are bombs raining down on Grandad and meanwhile he goes to have a bath. it must have been a rare luxury in such times.

And he’s getting busier too – more balloons to put up and more to maintain no doubt. It’s interesting that he writes so little about his actual war work – i.e. being a balloon operator. Maybe it wasn’t the thing to do, lest ‘Jerry’ get his hands on the information and use it against them. This had probably been inculcated into British troops in the preceding war years.