The following transcript is taken from a small, brown leather bound, pocket diary. Most of the entries were written in pencil. The photographs relating to the bomb disposal activities had been stored separate to the diary: where there are notes on the back relating the picture to a specific place these have been included. All other photographs are for the purposes of illustrating, as far as possible, what was happening generally – for examples pictures the pictures of the Lady Connaught, the landing craft and the map of Knokke Airfield and the Northern Front .
The cities of Bruges and Ghent nominated in this diary are, in Flemish/Dutch, the cities of Brugge and Gent.
At transit camp 9.45, arrived Southampton dock & board Lady Connaught1 (Liverpool/Dublin pre war boat). Left harbour just before one o’clock.
Arrived Nap ... 4 o’clock Left for France 4.10 on 25.9.46.
Layed off Arromanches and boarded a tank landing craft, sea was very rough. Lorries took us to St Crôme de Fresné town, Meuvaines, Crépon, Creully, where we are staying the night, where from here I don’t know but boy oh boy am I tired!
Spent day just outside Caen. Breaking camp. Carpiquet 3 mls SE Caen. (Current day map shows an airport there.)
Route from Caen to Ghent: Caen, Lisieux, Thiberville, Boisney, Neubourg, Évreux, Pacy-sur-Eure, Vernon, Gisors, Beauvais, Breteuil, Moreuil, Albert, Bapaune, Arras, Douai-Orchies, Tournai, Leuze,Thieulain, North Oudenaarde, Ghent (Main places).
Stayed night in centre of Évreux. Went to a few cafes & had some wine, apéritif, cognac, Calvados & beer as we are sleeping in an open lorry – it has warmed me beautifully and I feel like ten men. We had lunch at 1.15 outside one of Lisieux churches – there are only the remains, but one could see they were once beautiful places. Hardly a house standing. People seem starved.
Left Évreux early this morning. We’re having lunch here at Beauvais where I am told the R101 crashed. There is a marvellous church here (it’s more like a cathedral).
Towards RENAIX (RONSE in Flemish). We crossed the Belgium border approx. 10 o’clock 30.9.44 at Cambrai. Next big town was Tournai, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, a beautiful RC cathedral. Enormous flags from most windows and ‘Welcome to our Glorious Allies’ on quite a number of windows and everywhere once you get talking to the inhab (itants) thank us for liberating them.
Note: I find my French extremely useful here in Belgium, more so in France. I have acted as an interpreter in several cafes/it’s great fun. I find I can understand their conversation, but find difficulty in answering them. I’ve surprised myself, I didn’t think I knew so much French as I do.
Just settling down today, have moved from tents to a large shed with practically no windows and also terribly cold at night (I’ve only 3 blankets). I have a German bed to sleep on, an iron effort. I have no mattress, and one could play noughts and crosses on my back every morning.
Working hard between these dates but nothing of any importance to relate, except went down to Ghent looking for present for Cecil, Winnie, Gordon, Hugh & Edith, Rita? and of course Fred. Write a letter to Fred. (TF Charlton, father)
Wrote to Dorothy Armstrong. Nitchfield.
Holland. Wrote to Rita Arrnnemberg. 12 Salsberg (?), Oostenburg, Mausi.
Wrote to Betty. Heard today that I am on the advance party to front line 3 ½ to 4 miles north of Bruges, maybe a rumour, we will see anyway on 14.10.44. Heard plenty of work to do up there.
We have arrived at our destination three miles north of Bruges , the Bosche is said to be in a chateau across the canal (we are now in the Canadian beachhead). We expect to have a sleepless night, gun fire is terrific.
Have noticed the construction of all Belgium bridges this way, they are really beautiful jobs. Just heard Bosche 3 klm from here. Officer just said if we want something to do, go along the road and help the RAF regiment out there having a go.
Cont. Last Jerry patrol captured here five days ago. As we passed through Bruges the people thought we were prisoners (Bosche) because of our dusty blue battledress, this is by no means the first time we were taken for Germans, happened in Ghent and many places.
We left Ghent (Denise St Westrem / St.-Denijs-Westrem in Flemish) at lunch time. King George visited our air-strip, sorry I missed him. Went into Bruges , it was dusk. We couldn’t see the sites but two lovely girls took my pal and I in tow. Went home with them & had some beer. Unfortunately the curfew is at nine so we left early.
Setted in chateau.
Bought a 2.2 revolver off a swaddy (squaddy), might come in useful sometime. Bought in Bruges.
We have been settling in today on the airstrip, moved into civvy house with my pal Ernest Philips, sleeping on divan in a bedroom. An enormous change, too good to last. I hear we are pushing the huns out of the pocket next week. The Canadians have already gone. The bombs for the storage arrived today, we reached the far edge of Bruges. Fighters are arriving soon. We have guns on strafe which makes a dickens of a noise day & night . Jerry is only 3 ½ – 4 km away. Much too near for comfort. He keeps sending patrols over. The gunners told me this morning they have allowed civvies to pull the lanyard to fire the gun, the gunners said we may anytime we like, I’m looking forward to firing the gun (one has to wear cotton wool in one’s ears). The shells weigh 2 ... will be very ... I have … grenades.
Army have had reinforcements parachute ... They have many Tiger Tanks … They sent a patrol over the canal in a hewn out log. Canadians killed the lot, except one, who escaped. The billet is very good, teacher & his wife & 3 girls.
Part of a hun patrol were caught on the airstrip last night by the guards. … shot on strip this afternoon. We have been ordered to carry our guns everywhere we go. There are many rumours, too many to write down. Moved into another house, the late owner was very … He is now awaiting trial (collaborator).
One of our cookhouse chaps went into Bruges the other night, has not returned, believed murdered by collaborators, have been dredging the canal.
Nothing much to relate between these dates except that fifteen Huns escaped while passing through Bruges. The cook, Salt, was found in canal with his head smashed in at the same time as Tommy was found with his throat cut.
Wireless says fighting ceased in this pocket at 7.30. Guns were still blazing away late in the day. Gerry got within 1 ½ - 2 miles from our airstrip, the Canadians had cut the pocket in half and were forcing them this way. Guards doubled. I was a guard commander the other night, second time within twelve days. Plenty of prisoners passed through yesterday. I hear leave has started in 83 Group (Brussels not Blighty).
Historical note: Knokke was liberated by the Canadians on this day. The Germans had fled to the Netherlands. The Canadians had to ‘clean’ the beach, because there were a lot of German mine field and fortifications.
A V1 passed overhead tonight going in the direction of Courtrai (?).
Knocke. Gerry was here Friday 4.11.44. The whole airfield is mined, so expect loads of work in the very near future We have had rather an exciting day. Left Brugges 2 o’clock, arrived Knocke drome about 5.45 hrs. The whole drome is heavily mined, all sorts of munitions here. There are about 25 of us in the advance party. I am the only BD Cpl with party at the moment.
I am writing this from a room in the best hotel in Knocke, this is a single bedroom with a lovely old bed, wardrobe, wash bowl, there’s no electricity or water. There is a board on my bedroom door ‘Brigade Major’, best room I have had since I’ve been over here. Mines in the road on the way here are painted white, the poor driver had to dodge these. All the Canadians left this morning, we 25 are the only military in town in charge of the town. I guess there are 11,000 prisoners said to be roundabout town. As I have said Gerry was here in force the day before yesterday.
We crossed the border into Holland. 500 collaborators (men) yesterday. Are collecting the women today.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned anything about the floods around here (Hun did it I believe). Went back to Bruges yesterday, the road was flooded in many places, we couldn’t see any sign of road or verge. Mine notices very nearly all the way to Bruges on either side of road. Most of the villages are uninhabitable, all houses that aren’t down have shell holes through the roof and walls. Goodness knows where the people sleep or where they get their food, the villages are even worse than Caen, Lisieux or any town I have yet seen. There are literally hundreds of dead cattle and horses in the fields for miles around, one can see them floating in the flooded fields, or with head blown off, a horrid sight altogether.
Going to Bruges yesterday means I have been in Holland twice now. OK! By the way, there is only one café open in the whole of Knocke.
6 times into Holland.
We have been very busy last few days. Have been to Bruges again (3 days ago) for rations. In the three or four days 13 chaps have been blown up by mines and booby traps. Three or four of our BD chaps coming to work with us on the minefield got blown up before they reached us, the driver Cpl Talbot got killed and the others injured, they went along the wrong road. When I think of the way we came to Knocke (we took the wrong road) I break out in cold perspiration. Tomorrow I start on demining the airfield, it does nothing but rain here, and the wind oh! la la.
This morning two cpls (myself included), 9 men, 1 sergeant and 1 officer made up a RAF contingent for attending the laying of wreaths on the 1914-18 war memorial. What a ceremony, we paraded at eight o’clock and marched to the church. Incidentally, it was the first RC church I had been in over here, all the chairs are back to front – they have a long back with the seat about 1’ 6" – 2’ off the ground. The whole of Knocke must have been in and around the church, there were the White Army, police, girl guides, scouts, nurses? + loads of men wearing uniforms. I’ve never seen lots of banners … Army contingent of 1 dozen men. After the service we tried to march to the war memorial, and there the mayor made a speech. People afterwards sang all the national anthems, and when they came to their own they put their hearts and souls into the words. Tomorrow Knocke are having a liberation dance – I hope I can get to it.
I forgot to relate that following that week a troop IE outside Ostend harbour went down in one minute and a half – 300 RAF fellows gone … many in … the whole … Out of the … away. They were informants I guess, it is said a plane was heard overhead before the explosion. It was terrible on the minefield today, frightful wind, rain all day. We are probing every inch on our strip, probing for wooden box mines, Horse? mines also, the mine detectors will not pick these up. Am terribly tired tonight. Am trying to write to Alice, Hugh and Betty.
Since the last entry I have been demining. Total up to date for the field is 2,658 mines, Teller, Shoe, Halz & S mines. OIOBD … beginning to take interest – this is the biggest job ever undertaken by BD. 3 more Res got ‘done up’ today de-lousing hotels – total now 13.
Many things have happened since I last made an entry. We have picked up 14,000 mines of all types. By rights I should be dead now (3 times, it has happened) if the mine had operated, but luckily for me it did not blow up. The RE’s (royal engineers?) here have had 40 casualties. We haven’t had any, although two men of the wing have been injured. One picked up a booby trapped revolver and the other operated a loaded bazooka, both badly injured. We have had Gerry para landed near here, some have been caught but it is believed many are being housed by collaborators. The whole of Knokke is absolutely full of collaborators. I’ve seen loads of them, I’ve been with the lads of the White Army and they have pointed them out to me.
We have to carry loaded guns at night. Jerry bombed us last night, managed to get two hits on runway, not a lot of damage.
We had a raid today, machine guns and bombs on the runway, not a lot of damage.
‘S’ mine blew up on the minefield (Hildeguard), badly injured two of our chaps and injured another not quite so badly. I took one to the sick bay. He was too dazed & numb to feel his injuries, one being half his nose cut off. I’m afraid this made me a little shaky for the rest of the day. It is things like this that upset my nerves for a while but I soon get over it.
We had some Messerschmitts over at breakfast time on recco. I guess also 12 Mess, about a quarter to ten, they machine gunned us on the drome, but ak ak managed to knock down two and another probable.