Grandad’s Diary. 29th January 1945

The entry for 29th January

Tied off Ostend at 10:30 AM but didn’t land till 7.0PM. Much confusion during day. Nobody knowing what is happening. Drive to Blankenberge. Good meal and bed in hotel.

Looking at the last few posts, it seems that Grandad has spent almost three days in a boat, for a journey that could have been just a few hours. But then, I suppose, he isn’t on holiday.

I wonder how the men would have used their time in those tedious, cramped conditions. If Grandad had had a bigger diary he would have all that time to fill it, but then he would only have been filling it with observations of soldiers being bored, so it’s probably a good job the diary is as small as it is.

Grandad’s Diary. 28th January 1945

The pages with entries from 28th January to 3rd February

Still tied up. Set of A.M. but tie up off Southend. So cold and all of us stay below. Probably loose this midnight.

I mentioned when introducing my Grandad’s Diary that my experience of World War 2 as an eight-year old (I was 8 when Grandad died), was limited to the Warlord and Commando comics. Not only were these rather jingoistic, portraying a rather one-sided view of World War II, but there was no waiting. No boredom. In Commando, war was immediate, full of action and exciting.

Grandad’s Diary is clear: war is often long periods of mind-numbing boredom. Whether Grandad’s waiting was punctuated by periods of action, tragedy and excitement, I am yet to see. I haven’t got to those pages yet.

Grandad’s Diary. 27th January

Entry for 27th January 1945

Left early for craft at Tilbury Docks. Tied up all day. Twice as many men aboard Confusion and discomfort Rumours that we leave midnight. So different this trip to that of ‘D’ Day. Wonder how our H.Q. will make out other side. Still trying to carry out static site boating.

I’ve done a lot of ‘wondering’ about my Grandad over the past few posts. It’s good to hear that he did some wondering too. I’m presuming the obvious: that the weather was so bad compared to the D-Day landing that it would be difficult to make out the other side after the trip across the English Channel. But of course it might be something to do with working out the identity of people they would meet when they finally made it overseas.

I’m pretty sure I’ve got the last word in the entry wrong. Could it be ‘looting’, ‘louting’ or ‘booting’? Or something else entirely? I know that barrage balloons were used to defend shipping, so hence tending towards the ‘boating’ translation, although the phrase itself doesn’t make sense.

Either way it must have been so frustrating to be shut up on that boat all day. Grandad had made pretty good time since departing from Wythall four days earlier. Spending an entire day on a boat waiting to depart must have been tense and dispiriting for everyone.

Grandad’s Diary. 26th January 1945

Entry from 26th Janurary 1945

Saw Widders and Bill Knight. Rather overjoyed at seeing old mates. Life deadling waiting. Usual duff gen that trip may be off yet.

It’s good to hear Grandad talking about old friends. It helps him transcend the Grandad I knew as an eight-year old into more of a real person.

A couple of words I wasn’t sure about here. Firstly the word ‘waiting’ – I’m presuming that because the phrase ‘life deadly waiting’ makes some kind of sense to me as that of it’s so boring and tense waiting for something as dramatic as going overseas to fight for your country… However I could be completely mistaken and it doesn’t actually say waiting.

The second is the phrase ‘duff gen’, which I thought makes no sense, until I discovered that there is an entire dictionary of RAF slang and it’s all on Wikipedia. ‘Duff gen’ is slang for incorrect intelligence. I love that insight into the rumours flying around that the next push into Europe might not happen, and also the fact that Grandad was on to them – he was wise enough to recognise a rumour for what it was, i.e. duff gen.

Grandad’s Diary. 25th January 1945

Entry from 25th January 1945

Here we march miles for meals. Billeted in P.A. Institution often get lost in building. Picture shows arranged. Huge numbers of men here for over.

I admit I struggle with the last word in this entry. It looks to me like ‘oval’, but I think it might be ‘over’ and I’m assuming that it may be short for ‘overseas’. I’m happy to be advised.

The PA Institution building which Grandad reports is easy to get lost in was an old workhouse. By this point workhouses had been renamed ‘Public Assistance Institutions’ and were often in the process of being renamed again as hospitals.

Grandad’s Diary. 24th January 1945

The entry from 24th January

Left Halton. Boys made commotion in NAAFI. Upheld our bad manners. Saw where rocket had fallen at Dagenham. Arrived at Hornchurch in Essex.

Grandad’s journey to his second overseas posting continues. You’ll know from the introduction that he wasn’t properly overseas until 27th January, so we still have three days of travelling to get to France. They didn’t have the Channel Tunnel back then.

There’s a lovely insight into the banter and camaraderie of the wartime military. The NAAFI, I think, was a kind of supermarket for the military. I wonder what level of a commotion it means? Would it be someone throwing a sandwich? Or throwing a punch. My Grandad was gentle man and so I should imagine that he would have looked down upon any unseemly antics.

And it doesn’t take long to find out that V2 rockets did fall on Barking and Dagenham just ten days earlier than this entry. This report from 2015 says a little about the impact they had. It must have been a reminder to the soldiers returning to the conflict that they had to get the job done.

Grandad’s Diary – Introduction

It is a tiny book. It measures 10cm in height and 7cm in width – perfect for fitting into a small pocket in an army uniform or pack. Its pages are an especially thin-type of paper that means the ink my Grandad used can sometimes be seen through the back of the paper it was written on. This makes it difficult to read in places.

My Grandad’s Diary: a very small book.

On the first page is written, quite simply, the dates that Grandad served overseas. It is strange that only ‘overseas’ service seemed to ‘count’. There isn’t much of a record of service in this country in either this diary or his service book – only time overseas is recorded. I had thought that by winning the ‘Defence Medal’ it would mean that Grandad had served significantly in this country, and that may be true, but it turns out that all members of the Armed Services who served were eligible for the Defence Medal.

The first page of my Grandad’s diary, including his own handwritten note of when he served.

You can see clearly how Grandad noted that he served overseas from the 5th June 1944 until 29th September, then from 27th January to 13th May. This shows that he was overseas the day before D-Day on 6th June 1944 and was still overseas on the 13th May 1945, 5 days after VE day on the eighth.

I have no record of his service in the first stint, nor indeed why he came back home in September. I wonder when he found out about D-Day. There must have been quite an element of secrecy to keep the date a surprise from the Germans. And I wonder what his experiences were in those days. Like many, I have seen the visceral ‘Saving Private Ryan’. I wonder, as an RAF balloon operator, how close he got that kind of action.

I will probably never know. But what I can find out as an insight into his second stint. I have his diary and can begin looking at his story from 23rd January 1945, the date of his first entry.

That’s the next post.

What My Grandad did in the War Part 3

There weren’t many surprises as I looked through my Grandad’s service record. I have been meaning to write about it for a few years and so I have scanned over it a few times. The headlines of what he did in the war that I outlined in the last post were already known to me. However, when I digitised his service record and therefore had to look at some of the more wordy pages in more detail, a couple of things stood out to me that I hadn’t previously realised.

The first of these was that the service and release book was just that: Grandad was only released from service at the end of the War, he wasn’t discharged. The book is full of references to this in the small print, and in some places, the print isn’t even so small – take a look at this page:

NOT BEEN DISCHARGED”… It’s pretty ominous.

It made me wonder what life was like immediately after the war. The archive pictures of VE day look pretty awesome – but I suppose there must have been a tension that with so much of the World having been at war, things might flare up again.

Grandad finished overseas service on 13th May 1945, 5 days after VE day which began on 8th May. VJ day is 15th August, a full three months later, but the official signing of the surrender document, and therefore the end of the 2nd World War proper didn’t take place until 2nd September. Grandad was released from service on the 5th September.

That must have been a strange few months. The soldiers had worked so hard up until May 1945 to achieve Victory in Europe and the languished around (my guess) for the rest of the Summer until Victory in Japan was achieved. I wonder what that must have felt like – was there an expectation, or even a fear of being called up to the conflict with Japan? Was Grandad weary of war by then and desperate to finish?

It must have been a joy to finally have that release document signed and be able to start a life away from the threat of war on the 5th September. But the threat still hung over Grandad: he had NOT BEEN DISCHARGED and therefore could have been called up for a remobilisation at any time.

You can see all the photos of my Grandad’s Service and Release Book here.

What my Grandad did in the War Part 2

What my Grandad actually did in the war…

I’ve been digitising my Grandad’s old service book. You can see the whole thing in this Google Photos Album, but I thought I’d pick out a couple of my highlights in this post.

I was eight when my Grandad died, but I’m sure that by then I had begun to pester him with questions like “What did you do in the war?” The year was 1980 and I was reading comics like ‘Warlord’ and ‘Commando’. They presented a very one-sided view of the Second World War to me, one in which the British were the goodies and the Germans were the baddies who only knew two words in their collective vocabulary: ‘Nein’ and ‘Achtung’. Of course, 8-year old me has changed considerably, but back then I though the Second World War was glorious. We all have stuff to learn.

My Grandad never really answered the question. In fact, I don’t recall him telling me anything about the war. And we used to talk a lot. But I know now, especially having talked to my Mum (his daughter), that he never liked to talk about the War. I hope to find out some detail as I seek to digitise his diary in the next few posts, but I suspect the answer is all too simple: war isn’t glorious. It’s tragic and messy and terrible.

But back to the basics. What did my Grandad do in the war? As you can see in the image above from the centre of his RAF Service and Release Book, he was an RAF Balloon Operator. He served overseas from D-Day to late September in 1944 and then again from January to May in 1945. He was decorated with the 1934-45 Star, the France and Germany Star and the Defence Medal. He received the highest judge of character (V.G.) and the second-highest proficiency rating of SUPR. The page with the proficiency ratings is here:

All in all his service record is pretty good. I particularly like the personal comments from his commanding officer:

Very keen and capable. Intelligent, possesses good administrative ability.

Proud? Me? Of my Grandad? Of course I am.

What my Grandad did in the War

My Grandad Bill died when I was eight.

I knew that he had fought in the Second World War, but it was not until the end of my Nan’s life that I understood more about the effect it had had upon him and the impact it had on my family.

More about that another time.

In the top drawer of my desk, his Release Book and a little diary have sat for many years. Ensconced carefully in their wrapping they have hidden their secrets until now. That is, now I am hoping to digitise and translate them over the next few days and weeks. By digitise, I mean scan. By translate, I mean that Grandad’s delicate script on tissue-thin paper is a little difficult for me to read at times. But still, I’m going to give it a go. I mean to coincide the diary entries with the dates that they were written 75 years ago, and the first was written on 25th January 1945.

Firstly then, the Release Book. It is a standard Royal Airforce Service and Release Book and it looks like this.

Next post I’ll take a look inside.

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