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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