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 childhood, usually unaccompanied except by Old Nan, to stay in the school holidays.
Old Nan had been Katta’s nanny as well as my father’s. He was, of course, her perfect boy. She always used to tell us how much better the de la Mares and the Shawcrosses (our other cousins) were than us. We were humbled by this and it was not for many years that we found out that she gave them the same treatment about us, praising us in comparison to them. Although always rather disapproving of my mother she came to accept and love her. She even stooped to using garlic on the salad bowl and other such newfangled ideas. She always said to us, “No one but your father would be able to put up with your mother”. She may have been right, as though wonderful and stimulating my mother was a difficult personality, given to depression and euphoria in an unpredictable way.
25/9/41 We are going away next week to Katta’s. The children are madly excited. I am being very grand over the food question, which is always a thing nowadays when you stay away. I’m sending one chicken, an enormous cut off our pig, 1 pot of honey, 1 doz eggs (I can’t pack any more) ordinary tea and sugar ration, lashings of butter and all the sweets Mrs Wheeldon has been able to collect in a week. I hope this will properly impress Katta. When I go on Monday I shall take some rabbits.
26/9/41 The children went off this morning. They woke up at cockcrow and began to prepare. When they were ready and we were finishing the packing, they ran outside and one could hear their voices up and down the path “Good bye, so & so. Good bye So and So. You won’t see us for one week and one week-end.” On the platform Thomas was very self-contained but Rose ran round in circles making rather pretty gestures with her hands. The house is like a grave without them. I never knew before how much they mean to me for themselves. I always hold the theory that I care for them chiefly for your sake but I don’t think it’s true. I have missed them all day, and all day I have thought “now they are in the train. By now they will be in London” and so on. They had two new blue coats (the ones I dreamed about) and they really did look sweet. I do wish you could see them.
Both Frankie and Jack wrote nearly every day, sometimes duplicating the contents of letters by using various mail systems – post, airmail and cable (telegram). Many letters were lost and sometimes they were delayed, and on occasion 10 letters would arrive in one delivery. Frankie is infuriated by a planning report and launches into a diatribe in criticism of planners.
27/9/41 Still no letters. I got three broadsheets from the Planners on food distribution and production. The plan they have got out is simply horrifying. It is very nicely tricked out with maps and statistics and graphs and all that, and at first I was impressed by the high degree of intelligence needed to understand these. But the plan itself is more like a scenario for a film by H G Wells or Aldous Huxley than a plan — only it is not entertaining. It is all about dividing the land into “Service” and “Supply” farms — the service farms being near the towns which would supply only fresh food, and the supply farms to be all the others which would rear livestock and grow all food like wheat, beans, etc to supply the service farms. In the town there would be one central and distributing centre.
The plan takes no account at all of soil suitability, the personal preferences of the farmers, the fact that high-yielding dairy herds are bred not bought, nor of the fact that the only way to avoid abortion is to rear your own stock; you can’t just buy every year from supply farms. It never touches the real problems of agriculture, such as rural housing, water supplies, roads, wages, prices. As I am expected to speak about it I have written out what I consider to be a very good and devastating criticism of it.
I shan’t in fact deliver this. I am seeing Anni on Monday and I shall give it to her to read, but if I do go to the conference I shall tell them privately what I think of it, but I shan’t speak publicly at all. I think it is really horrifying. Apart from the fact that they are a lot of able-bodied people with at least sufficient intelligence to do a routine war job, think of the paper they waste. Lay people always go on so about composting, and sewerage, and blood from carcasses. They seem to think a few enlightened intellectuals could put the whole thing right in two minutes.
I wish they would come and try I wish they would come here now and tell me a) whether to thatch my ricks, b) or to cut my silage or c) to go on ploughing and cultivating for next year’s sowing. All three are important and all should be done at once and someone has got to decide which to do first or to do a bit of each and not finish any. When they had decided this they could tell me where when and how to make the compost heap and rub their noses in it. And then they could mend my gates and do my fencing, and paint our doors and saw the wood for the winter and then we should all be neat and tidy and fit for the approval of any intellectual. And I should be jolly pleased because I can’t get it done in any other way.
Yesterday, for the first time for about a year, the thought flashed across my mind that we might not be going to win the war after all. Everyone here is a bit downcast by the failure of American production. It is a bit discouraging to think that all the war has done so far is to give the Americans more purchasing power to buy automobiles which ought to have been tanks. If the Germans got to the Caucasus the Russians would fail and then where should we be? I don’t know. Maybe somebody does. I am sick and tired of politics, politicians, leader-writers and all controllers of propaganda. I never believe a word they say any more.
It is horrible here without the children and I long for Monday.
30/9/41 Much Hadham. The really exciting thing is that my book is going to come out on October the 9th. I shall send you a cable to tell you this, so the news when you get it in this letter won’t be as exciting for you as it is for me at the moment. It is quite accidental as Dick had no idea it was your birthday.
It is really lovely here. Katta and Dick are awfully good hosts and it is so nice to sit up drinking tea and talking — so much what I need. I can see that I must really go away more. I get so depressed at home but cheer up at once when I get the stimulus of company.
The children are having a lovely time. They get on extremely well with Katta’s and are not a bit shy. Old Nan is here. I am afraid she is really getting rather old now. I notice she is a trifle piano compared with her usual self. Of course she is over 70 now. I wish you would write to her occasionally.
1/10/41 Much Hadham I am really rather enjoying myself here. The house is littered with books that I more or less want to read, so immediately I have fulfilled the minimum politeness of a guest, I bury myself in an armchair and read for the rest of the day.
Yesterday I was taken by Katta to pick blackberries for the Women’s Institute. Three other leading lights of Much Hadham came with us. One of the three women has a husband in Egypt. He is an R.E. and is on some job too secret for her to know what it is. She is very unhappy and she spoke to me as a kindred spirit, with complete intimacy. She said she couldn’t really imagine how she had got as far as she had. She had always thought she would be dotty by now as it made one so lonely. And she said she was getting old and bitter and when other people’s husbands came home on leave she could hardly pretend any more to be pleased. She said at one point “But I am used to going about alone now”. And I knew that, for her, that was almost the saddest thing, like an insult, a humiliation.
I know how she feels, because just at the beginning I felt like that. I think that all over England women are suffering like this and I think seriously that it is devastating. But nobody cares or even remembers them and the war will go on for years yet. So what? Dod says the first and greatest casualty of the war is the family.