Category Archives: 1941 July-December

World War II: second half of 1941

The book's success brings local fame

Wogan Phillips
Wogan Phillips

Approach to Farming: the book’s success continues to bring pleasure which helps to offset the failures at war.

28/11/41 I dined with Wogan Phillips last night in Stratford. (  He is quite exceptionally nice and you would like him. Apparently he went to Spain, not in the International Brigade as he is C3 (Conscientious Objector), but as an ambulance driver. He was turned out of his local Home Guard unit because he had been in Spain — they called him a fifth columnist. What an odd commentary on the general knowledge and understanding of the English. Of course this was before Russia was in the war.

30/11/41   The tendency here is to be slightly worried about the Libyan campaign. At best it seems our casualties must be huge. At times like these I begin to think I have much to be thankful for. But the Russians turning the Germans out of Rostov is good. (November 20, 1941  Germans take Rostov. November 27, 1941  Soviet troops retake Rostov. December 5, 1941  German attack on Moscow is abandoned.)

I should say it’s the first time the Germans have been turned out of anywhere big enough to count. It looks as tho’ they bit off more than they could chew with Russia.

5/12/41   I went to a farmers’ meeting which was very enjoyable. It was the first meeting of a new discussion club run by Clyde Higgs and the War Committee and the new agricultural adviser who is called Pattison. It was a very good meeting addressed by a man called Mansfield, who is a considerable pundit. My dear, it really is fun, being a person of some importance. After the meeting was over I went to join and pay my subscription. Clyde Higgs came up and said “Hullo, authoress” in a loud voice and asked me how the book was going. Then Wilkes came up with Mansfield and said “Do you know Mrs D?” and Mansfield said “Unless I’m very much mistaken, Mrs D must be the author  of a very charming book I have just read”. Mrs D covered in blushes and enjoying herself like mad. I talked to him for a long time and then went to pay my subscription. There were two rates, one for farmers and one for farm labourers. The man said “Farm labourer?” and I said “Farmer”. He looked a bit surprised and said “Well, Miss Mrs …?” “Mrs Donaldson”. “Oh ho, Gypsy Hall.” Then we went all through it. Then Pattison was brought and introduced. He said he hadn’t read the book because he had asked for it at the Library, and the girl said he would have to go on a very long waiting list. All very enjoyable. I do wish you were here to see it.

9/12/41   I am getting like the German people were always supposed to be, too used to sensation and crisis to be aroused by anything. I am very much less interested in the new Japanese war than I was, for instance, in the Italian attack on Greece. I no longer believe that any one thing can bring in its train a quick end to the war. They are all to me simply phases which have to be got through. The end of each month is a far bigger event in my life than anything the Axis can do. I am only interested in time.

10/12/41   I have just heard the news of the sinking of the P.o.W. and the Repulse, which has chastened me a good deal.

(10 December 1941 HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk near Kuantan on the east coast of Malaya, by Japanese torpedoes and bombs, there being no worthwhile defensive support. About 1200 men were lost.  Also:

When we sank the Bismarck Eden said it was more important than the loss of Crete, and tho’ I suppose, as we have more ships, it is not as serious, it must be in the order of a major defeat. The Japs seem to be having some luck and a considerable initial success. I wonder if the Americans are any good?

11/12/41   I am very depressed about the news. It seems so odd that the Japs should have succeeded in sinking one American and two British capital ships in three days considering the Germans haven’t been able to do it in two wars.

P.S. What a good gesture on the part of China to declare war on Germany and Italy! It may not mean anything at all as I suppose she can’t do more than continue the war against Japan, but after all these years of lonely fighting it is a very pretty example to the rest of the world.

(9th December 1941″ The Chinese Government hereby formally declares war on Japan. 11th December 1941 Germany, with Italy and Japan declared war on the United States “)

Brendan Bracken
Brendan Bracken

P.S. again. There is rather a scandal going on because Basil (Ava, Dufferin and Ava) has been taken out of the army by Brendan(Bracken, Minister of Information 1941-45, Churchill’s “faithful chela” and later The Financial Times)) and appointed to a cushy job in M o I.



Basil Ava, later Marquis of Dufferin and Ava
Basil Marquis Dufferin & Ava


Questions have been asked in the H of C.  Apparently people are particularly annoyed because it is common knowledge that Basil has done quite excessively badly in the army and has anyhow now drunk himself into a coma.


P.S. Since America is now at war with the Germans I must write another line. It is rather a big occasion and I feel now that the Germans can never win. But there is one rather amusing thing. In spite of our bad record at Munich etc we do share the distinction with France — who has now lost all claim to distinction — of having declared war on Germany. Every single other country waited to be actually attacked.

12/12/41   Apparently the Japs have no secret weapon. They were just very efficient and we were rather inefficient.

I have just had the only cheerful thought I have ever had about the war. Hitler has been forced to play his last ace with Japan. If we have trumped his ace with America (which, unless Japan continues her quick and spectacular victories, we surely must have) it is now at last really a question of time. The length of time it takes Britain, America, Russia and China to defeat Japan, Germany and Italy. But there can be no more large set-backs, no new navies thrown in to alter the balance etc. So that now at last the war seems to have got going in earnest and any victory we achieve will be a real one and a step forward. All the preliminaries are over and the war really begun. At the same time I think we shall have to do a bit better. Neither in Libya nor in the Pacific can we be said to have been very brilliant. And slow but sure is not good enough if our casualties are as great as they have been lately in both places.

General Robert Laycock in 1943
Bob Laycock in 1943

14/12/41   I am rather optimistic about the war. You cannot get away from the fact that the Russians have got the Germans on the run in Russia while we have at any rate got them walking in Libya. Bob Laycock is missing. I wonder what that means. Poor Angie!
This is typical not only of my mother’s somewhat volatile temperament but also of the swings and changes of wartime news. On 11/12/41, 3 days before,  she had written, “I am very depressed about the news…”

I wish I was you — always surrounded with people. It is the loneliness and the hours of contemplation which get me down

17/12/41   T has just made a divine remark and a perfect commentary on Molly’s teaching. I told him you had written him a pc written in big letters so that he could read it. He said “Does it say anything about cats?” I said “No, why?” And he said “If it did, I could read that.”

19/12/41   We have started collecting stamps, so please use every type of Egyptian on letters.

The Farmer and Stockbreeder people are coming to-morrow, so I hope I shall have some photographs of the farm to send you; also an article about it which you can boastfully show to your friends. This afternoon it’s Molly’s wedding. The children are very excited.

22/12/41   The F & S (Farmer and Sockbreeder magazine) people came and were very nice and took lots of photographs of the farm and me feeding the pigs and not feeding the pigs and so on, and it will be great fun if they are all good because I will be able to send them to you. The Farmers’ Weekly, having already given A to F a kind word, when it first appeared, have now reviewed it again amongst a list of books for Christmas. These are the high spots. “One of the interesting things about her account of it all is that no-one could say, grudgingly, that she was lucky. Luck had nothing to do with it. She has had a great deal of invaluable help, but simply because she cared so wholeheartedly about this experiment and was so clear-headed and intelligent in the way she tackled it, that she found out where to go for advice, and the people she asked were glad to give it to her. Her own personality, as it comes spontaneously thro’ her narrative, gives part of the quick pleasure there is in reading this book. The rest of your interest will be divided between the interest of her progress and the integrity and acuteness of her own observation.”

I have now had a letter from H J Massingham, ( who is a writer of some small distinction on country life. He says “I write to tell you how much I enjoyed and admired your book, so well written and full of such admirable good sense and good judgment, and with vision too, which most books on farming so sadly lack”. Now I think these two things, The FW review and this letter, added to, say, the TLS review, express the whole of the success of the book. I am surprised at its sort of “prestige” success. I am surprised at being backed so heartily by the farming papers and at getting good reviews from literary papers and most of all at getting approval from so many farming intellectuals, all of whom give me credit for “vision”, or “a sense of values” or something of that sort.

Book launch and broadcasting

Frankie’s first book, Approach to Farming, was an immediate success and launched her career as a writer. It was published in time of austerity, with no photographs or fancy cover but its success and book reviews brought her instant fame and invitations to broadcast with the BBC. Her father was a famous playwright (hence her… Continue Reading

Criticism of Planners; Visiting cousins

Jack’s sister, Katta, was married to Richard de la Mare (Dick), son of Walter. He was a director and later chairman of the publishers Faber and Faber. They lived in a beautiful house with a huge garden and a swimming pool in the village of Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. We went there often in our… Continue Reading

Rationing; Conduct of the War; beginning to gain Respect

Jack goes to Suez:  19/8/41     As you know, the colonel went to Suez, and now has asked for me to go too. I probably shall, in about a month, when we’ve worked the new colonel in here…. and 2 months later:  …It’s satisfactory to get one’s teeth into a job which needs doing. Ismailia… Continue Reading

Wartime Broadcasts and the Atlantic Charter

Frankie was nearly always critical of the political leadership in Britain and the style of public information about the war. She felt they were out of touch with the public. 25/7/41   I am writing under difficulties as I only sit down with difficulty having been tossed in the air by one of my pigs and… Continue Reading

A Woman's War