Frankie bought a Farm

Buying a farm during WW II: Gypsy Hall Farm, Wilmcote 1940
Farmhouse at Gypsy Hall

A difficult farm. Heavy clay soil, known to be complicated

It took over 6 weeks for Jack’s troop ship to get the soldiers to Egypt, the secret destination where he had been posted in November 1940. During this time Frankie had to take life-changing decisions alone. She looked at a great many farms, hesitated, doubted, procrastinated but finally took the decision of buying a farm called Gypsy Hall in Warwickshire. It was a difficult farm, on heavy clay soil which is known to be complicated. It was a far cry from the elegant life they had led in the house in Kent (the Wood House) that they had had designed for them by Walter Gropius when they married.

Jack Donaldson in World War IIJack wrote:  18/9/39    The more I think about things, the more I think, if we ever get back again and settled down, we’d better seriously try to take up farming.  I know that I don’t really want anything from life but to be with you and the children and work together at home, and I can’t see what else we can work  at.  Think about it seriously.

Buying a farm? Frankie must take alone the final decision as to which farm

Frances Donaldson in World War TwoFrankie wrote: ‘5/4/40   The farm itself I still think is a good buy in many ways.  No one will ever say the Donaldsons have bought a lovely farm but you know it wouldn’t help us much if they did and we were losing a package on it.  And I have really begun to believe that short of a miracle you can’t have everything.  The lovely farms are apt to belong to other people of our class and consequently with our views on aesthetic matters, who paid too much because of the beauty of the place, let it go down hill and now want to get out at a profit because they have put in electric light and an Aga cooker.

This farm is so near the borderline of unattractiveness and that is what worries me about your not having seen it.  To me it is not unattractive.  I like its workmanlikeness.’

Money difficulties: 

Buying a farm: cows, barn!
Cows in the barnyard at Broadlow. New buildings are needed

There was another problem. Jack had some capital from the sale of a house, but was not in any sense a rich man. However, he was extremely generous, partly because I think the money was in some way unreal to him. He gave nearly half of it to found an experiment in community health: the Peckham Health Centre. The farm cost £10,000 and that left a capital float of £5,000 but there was no more. Unfortunately he lent this £5,000 to a friend called Julian, who now failed to repay it. This left Frankie short of money and capital that she had expected to have and to invest in stocking the farm, buying machinery and installing better buildings and a cowshed for her planned dairy herd. Julian never repaid the money and so there was a permanent and worrying overdraft to live with.

A few months later she writes:
‘20/7/40   About money: It is enough to throw it about, and quite seriously I do think you have got to stop … and take up a feeling of more responsibility about the children.  I take up quite definitely the line that you are being kind to Julian at the expense of the children.’
She thinks of selling the farm because of the absence of capital, but decides to carry on.
‘26/5/40   I have decided to raise every penny to pay for the farm and the stock etc. And decide later what is the best thing to do for the future.’

Meanwhile Jack has the good life in Normandy. He wrote:

Jack Donaldson in World War II6/12/39    We all went to lunch with the station master at 1.30. this was a true epic. There were the two French officers and Greenhill and me and one of the station employees and his wife, and M. & Mme Racine. We started with 2 glasses of byrrh as aperitif, (a deux jambes!) and some pleasant hors-d’oeuvres. Then Coquille St.Jacques, which is a sort of scallop and very good. With this a very dry white Burgundy. Then the most delicious pigeon, roast with butter and a little brandy, one of the finest flavours I’ve tasted, and with it some excellent red Chateau neuf du Pape 1934. Then an old Norman custom i.e. a glass of Calvados all round “pour faire couler” so that you can start the next course without feeling jaded. then roast chicken and the most beautiful stuffing, and a separate course of roast tiny potatoes. With this, some lovely red Moulin a Vent Burgundy 1933, then cheese and more Chateauneuf, then an exquisite apple tart, with a sweet Grave, then coffee and Cognac and more Calvados. We got up weakly about 4 after one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, only to hear Mme Racine insisting that we all come back to supper at 7! Which we did, and staggered home at 10.30 physically exhausted.

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A Woman's War