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.
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.
Smashing billet with homely people who do anything for us. Plenty of black market here earned or by a ring who control it. Sites widely scattered.
As a balloon operator, Grandad and his team would have had to attend various sites where the barrage balloons were deployed to deter enemy air attack (planes or V1 bombs). Obviously he had a lot of balloon sites to look after.
There is another insight into life in newly liberated Belgium – requiring a black market to operate. And also Grandad’s appreciation for kindness and home comforts comes out with his sentence about his billet.
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.
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.
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?
These people good lookers know how to dress and make up. Also very clean at least to all appearances and also very polite even kiddies alike. A big number in Blank speak English due no doubt to tourists. Getting ready for tomorrow Comforts and groceries. Peculiar state of P.S.I.
This is at least the third post in which Grandad has mentioned the ‘marvellousness of the Belgians. They are clean, have great complexions, dress well and are ‘good lookers’. It paints a picture of coming from a grim, War-Effort Britain to a ‘living-the-high-life Belgium’. That must have been a strange feeling for him and his fellows – seeing that the people they were liberating had better living standards than the people back home.
And then there’s the ‘getting ready for tomorrow’. The knowing that the battlefront isn’t that far away. A dsepite knowing that allied forces were making great advances it is the knowing that death and destruction are still ahead. It must have made the contrast with life in ‘Blank’ (Blankenberge’ quite stark.
I don’t know what he means by “P.S.I.” or even if it is that – it may be “P.S.1”. It could be that as a balloon operator he is worried about the air pressure as it would affect how the ballons go up (PSI – could mean Pounds per Square Inch – a measure for air pressure). Or it could be something else. I don’t know.
Saw show given by Belgians continental style – very good. Extensive black market in these places. In fact all goods through this source. Belgians keen bargainners, giving little away – very friendly people if only surface friendliness.
No post yesterday because this post took up the space for two days.
I see some interesting observations here that I think say as much about the observer as the observee. The Belgians had only been out of German occupation for four months (the liberation of Belgium began in September 1944) and so it is difficult to categorise a people after such a traumatic time.
Grandad had never been abroad and never did go again after the war – these experience of Belgium and France in 1944 and 1945 were to be his only ones. It would be interesting to hear him talk about a comparison between life in wartime England and life in Belgium. He almost seems surprised by the health, wealth and happiness of the Belgians that he might, as if he was expecting something else.
I may have been unfair to the Red Cross Canteen here. In Grandad’s earlier entry he mentioned the ‘commotion’ some his of fellow airmen caused on 24th Jan, indicating a certain lack of control or disorganisation. Here I have translated Grandad’s words as ‘not efficient’, but he could have written ‘neat & efficient’. It could be that he thinks the Red Cross Canteen is actually better than the NAAFI.
Went to Bruges. Shops full but very dear. Bought scents cosmetics. People well dressed and clean, wonderful complexions. Toured cafes at night but not worth. Beer same effect as water. Going to sites next week. People very sociable and tell of Jerry attrocities and greed.
A post of contrasts. A genteel picture is painted: prosaic shopping and contented people. Then a hint of a warning of action next week, against this background of terrible things that have happened.
The Belgians must have been watering down their beer for the various soldiers in their towns – everyone knows that Belgian beer is ridiculously strong. In fact Belgian Beer Culture has made the Unesco list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. They must have been hiding that from their visitors during World War II.
The comments about the ‘wonderful complexions’ is another hint of the contrast between occupied Europe – well off and well fed, despite the atrocities committed by the occupying forces – and Britain – deprived of vitamins, food beeing rationed and probably, in Grandad’s eyes, showing it in the quality of their skin.
I wonder if my Nanna was the recipient of the cosmetics that Grandad bought…