About Frances Donaldson and the Donaldson family

The Donaldsons: the writer of these wartime letters was Frances Donaldson (1907-1994). The letters are to Jack Donaldson, her husband (1907-1998). Edited by her daughter, Rose Donaldson(b 1937). There are more details of their post-war lives, on the last post at:   https://womanswar.com/frances-donaldson-letters/after-the-war

Frances Donaldson, Elliott and Fry, Donaldsons
Frankie in 1940

Frances Donaldson, known as Frankie, later in life became a well-known writer and biographer. Frankie was virtually alone, at least in terms of responsibility and decision-making, for nearly 6 years in the Second World War. She was fighting on several fronts: learning to farm, managing men, buying and running the farm, producing food and milk for the war effort, bringing up small children, coping with the loneliness and her own slightly depressive temperament.

In 1939 she had been married for 4 years to Jack Donaldson, and had 2 small children – Thomas, aged 3 and Rose aged 22 months. War was declared on 3 September 1939.

Frances Donaldson wrote 2 books about farming in the war, followed by several books on agriculture. She is most well known for her biography of Edward VIII which has been referred to as ‘changing history’, and The Marconi Scandal. She wrote a biography of her father, the playwright Frederick Lonsdale, and several memoirs of her own life. Other books included a tribute to Evelyn Waugh, a biography and edited letters of P G Wodehouse, histories of Covent Garden Opera House and the British Council. She died in 1994.

List of published works:

  • Approach to Farming (1941)
  • Four Years’ Harvest (1944)
  • Milk Without Tears (1945)
  • Freddy Lonsdale (1957)
  • Child of the Twenties (1962)
  • The Marconi Scandal (1962)
  • Evelyn Waugh: Portrait of a Country Neighbour (1967)
  • Farming in Britain Today (1969)
  • The Actor Managers (1970)
  • Edward VIII (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974) — Won the Wolfson History Prize in 1974, and was the basis for the six-part television series Edward & Mrs. Simpson (1978).
  • P. G. Wodehouse (1982)
  • The British Council (1984)
  • The Royal Opera House in the 20th Century (1988)
  • Yours Plum, Letters of P G Wodehouse (1990)
  • A 20th-Century Life (1992)


Jack Donaldson, philanthropist, music lover, politician, public servant in later life.

Jack Donaldson, later Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, before WW2
Jack before the war

Jack joined up immediately war was declared and in November 1939 was posted to Normandy. He worked in transport and supplies, supporting the frontline throughout and moving to most of the war zones. He returned after Dunkirk and was posted to Egypt in November 1940. After that he went to Iraq,  next to Tehran from where he managed supplies to Russia (the Nazis controlled the whole access from Europe at this time), Sicily, Italy and Europe, finally returning home in August of 1945.

His first home leave after leaving for Egypt in November 1940 was April 1944. They had agreed to write to each other every day during the war, but this was not always accomplished, and some of the letters never arrived while others have been lost with time. Nonetheless there is an incredible number.

In 1967 Jack was made a Labour peer. In 1973 he became Under-secretary of State for Northern Ireland and in 1976 Minister for the Arts. He died in 1998.

See more about Jack here.



Thomas Donaldson, son of Frankie and Jack


Thomas  was the eldest child. He became a banker, also wrote – mostly about Credit. He worked for Morgan Guaranty in London. He died in 2011, leaving his wife Natalie and six children.

T H Donaldson
Thomas aged about 2, at the Wood House

It is clear during the course of these letters that our mother’s relationship with Thomas deteriorated. He was her first child, a beautiful baby, but a source of special worry as, when he was just over a year old, she was told that he had a heart condition which would prevent his surviving more than 2 years unless he had a heart operation. She was already pregnant with me and this must have been difficult news to cope with. Supported by the Peckham doctors, and the information that there was only a 50-50 chance of his surviving the recommended operation, she and my father declined the operation. There was continuing anxiety, of course, throughout his childhood, but he survived until the age of 75, and had a successful career and a happy family. However, he and our mother never really got on well after those early years, and I also had a difficult relationship with him. I still remember his return from school and his disloyalty (that was how it felt) when he marched very fast round the farm with me trailing behind, refusing to speak to me as an inferior, not-going-to-school species. I think that his personality was so different from hers, and the lack of a father was more difficult for a boy growing up than a girl, that his problems were hard to resolve and although she loved him she could not cope. I expect that many families were in some ways affected similarly by the wartime conditions.


 Rose, editor of these blogs

Rose Deakin on a horse
Rose Deakin in Chile


Rose was 22 months when the war broke out. She remembers many of the incidents described here. She is author of 4 books about her experiences in the very early days of personal computing. She has always written articles for features both in English and Spanish, mainly about Chile where she lived for 15 years until returning home to try to produce a book from her mother’s letters. In Chile she bought a small piece of land, goats and horses and possibly tried to re-live her childhood. She has 3 children and 4 grandchildren.





Kate, born in 1945

Kate Donaldson (Jennings)Kate  (now Kate Jennings) was not born until after the war and so does not feature in this story, except in the womb in 1945. A happy start to the new life in peacetime. She is married with 2 children and 2 grandchildren and is writing a history of the village of East Prawle in South Devon.

See Kate’s website about her book


A Woman's War