5th anniversary of the outbreak of War. Farming troubles

02/09/44   Well, now as to the farm.  It could hardly be gloomier.  For weeks now it has rained for a short time every other day so that on the fine days the crops dry out just enough to be fit and we are just going to get going when it rains again and we are boiled again.

However, the war is going marvellously and perhaps you will soon be here.  It wouldn’t be so gloomy if you were.  I’ve always managed to face anything with you about.  But it is a trifle harassing on one’s own.

03/09/44   This is the fifth anniversary of the war and the news is so wonderful one should be very gay.

Also from what today’s papers say there must be some chance of your being demobilised quite soon after an armistice in Europe is declared.  Also you have the O.B.E. and although I have forgotten to mention it in two letters I am really quite pleased about it and have boasted to everyone.  By the way you have become a local hero as your O.B.E. is mentioned in the Stratford Herald as a local honour.

06/09/44   I was just going to sit down and write you a long letter when I got your p.c. of the 3rd saying you were going so fast you wouldn’t be able to write and you wouldn’t get any of my letters.

I envy you enormously.  You must be having a most exciting and memorable experience.  I wish you had time to write about that.

Jack wrote a long letter listing, in code, the multiple towns that he had passed through on the rapid journey up from Italy through France and into Belgium. It gave an incredible view of the speed of the battle front and re-occupation, but is not given here as the coding makes it difficult to read or understand.

Frankie continued:

Here everything is so inexpressibly bloody that it’s not worth writing about.  It rains every single day.  It is impossible to get the harvest in.  Therefore no money comes in while it continually goes out.  There are 3 land girls in the house and the ram (pump) has gone wrong so we have no water.

Combine harvester
Loading corn straight into sacks in the field

15/09/44   I’m in a mood of such extreme fedupness that  I would say that I was physically, mentally and spiritually played right out except that I know that if there was any fresh stimulus such as your coming home to help or something quite new happening it wouldn’t be true.  But you’ve no idea how utterly wearing and boring farming can be to anyone who has not got the complete Henderson (Farming Ladder) mentality.

At the moment for instance there is the rest of the wheat to combine.  That takes Highman and one boy.  There is the straw to sweep off behind the combining.  That takes a whole gang.  There are the potatoes to be got up which takes the biggest gang one can get.  There is sugar beet to be lifted – can’t start on that anyway for the moment.  There is silage to be made which takes a whole gang.  There is 70 acres to plough.  All these things should really be done before autumn and winter rain make them impossible.  In addition there are a thousand and one delaying jobs like weighing sacks and getting them off to the station and grinding for the cows, etc., which also have to be done.  One simply never knows how to arrange the work to get the maximum out of everyone for the day.

Of course for anyone with a zest for life all this could be rather fun.  But I haven’t any zest for life.  I hate it.  And I’m tired and bored and I want to stay in bed and read a book.  And I see no chance of a change for at least 3 months.  What was that about you not doing any work for the first 6 months?  Just walking about and reading farming stuff?  You haven’t got a hope my boy.  Not even for six days.

I saw Mary Messer of the Farmers Weekly.  They are thinking of serialising Four Years’ Harvest.  But it’s not quite decided yet.  I’m sending you the Countryman.

I did order your tobacco and cigarettes from Army and Navy Stores but as it doesn’t appear to have been sent I’ll try and send some more tobacco from Stratford today.  The war is wonderful isn’t it.  But I’m afraid it may settle down to taking rather long over the actual end.

16/09/44   I had a letter this morning from a man called C.S. Orwin and as my letters to you lately have been full only of gloom and this is quite pleasant I thought I would write and tell you about it.  Orwin is one of those names one knows.  He is a pundit of sorts.  Anyway he has sent me two pamphlets and a Penguin of his and from the latter I see that he is Director of the Agricultural Economics Research Institute, Oxford and a Fellow and the Estates Bursar of Balliol College.  He has also been a lot of other things in his time and prepared the case for the N.F.U. in 1919.  He says:

The Countryman magazine
The Countryman in 1950

“May I say how much I enjoyed your article in the current issue of the Countryman.  It seems to me to face the real position of farming and the issues of reconstruction confronting the industry in a way few of the many people who speak for the industry are prepared to do.  The claims of landowners for preferential taxation, the claims of farmers for guaranteed profits but no interference from Whitehall, seem to me to be merely beating the air unless, of course, landlords and farmers want to make their industry parasitic on the rest of the community.”

I’m rather pleased because this must mean that the arguments do in fact make some sense.  And that is all that matters because one always knows that the ones who want to disagree will disagree whether it makes sense or not.

Darling I do hope you aren’t going into Germany.  I’m awfully frightened of all those civilian snipers and you alone in a jeep.

21/09/44   I feel slightly better than when I last wrote about the farm losses.  I still think it’s a great blow both to vanity and of course to income.  But I think it might be overcome in the future.  I am worried about the crop returns this year because the wheat has really not been good and it’s such a bad year for grass seeds that I don’t expect much there either.  But on the other hand the milk is good.  We are sending 66 or so at the moment as against 36 this time last year.  And I’ve now got a wonderful economy campaign on.  I’m going to be rid of all landgirls except Joan by the end of November and have the two little boys in their place at 26/- instead of 48/-.  It will mean I shall have to do the pigs and poultry myself but I don’t suppose that will hurt me.

Then I’m sorting out all the things we could manage without such as the Ford van and I’m going to sell them.  So that though it’s all going to be rather hard and poverty stricken again it should be better in the future.  And anyway it’s no good crying over spilt milk.

The other thing is I’ve decided not to tell anyone and you must keep to that.  You see it’s not quite fair.  The truth is that we made considerably less profit the year before than I thought and said but we really didn’t make a loss this year.

Then quite apart from that we have lived on the fat of the land and charged it up at £1 a week whereas it’s probably nearer £5 with all the cream and butter and poultry and the stuff I give away and the fact that all coal, etc., is paid for by the farm.  Then I pay myself £80 and although of course I ought to be able to one can’t have that £80 both ways.  The other reason why I’ve decided not to tell is that if you write as I have in the book – the last chapter I mean – you’ve got to make a profit.  Otherwise although it’s got nothing in the world to do with your opinions on wider things you’re simply written off.  O you needn’t bother what she says.  She made a loss in one of the best years of farming.  And I’m not going to have that.  Because my takings were higher than any of those gents.  It’s simply that I was brought up extravagant and they weren’t.

Also it isn’t as though I had nothing good to show.  This farm is out of the class of fertility of anything it has probably known for a century.  And I’ve improved it in every way and made it habitable.  And if I had concentrated on being economical I should have left all those things alone and made a profit.  So I hope you agree that it’s nobody’s business but ours.

Peter Cazalet
Peter Cazalet

I had a letter from Peter.  I moaned to him about the harvest and so he had a moan back.  He simply hates every minute of it.  He minds so dreadfully not only his own discomfort and danger but all the waste and futility.  And he loathes the killing even the killing of the Germans.  He says of course everybody does.  And he says that even the young officers hate going in anywhere first because they know some have got to get killed.  But the point he makes is that it’s all waste because we always win in the end.  His description of entering Brussels is really good and I must say a great change after such enlightening remarks as “I had a great reunion with the Racines.”  Not that I really want to crack at you my sweety even though you do manage to travel right through history and treat it as you might a journey to Southend in 1935.  However, I shall keep Peter’s letter if only to have one historical document to show my grandchildren.

Mr. Dowler rang me up this morning about something else and he said I read your article in the Countryman.  I thought he mightn’t like it because he is very simple and I thought some of the ideas might be offensive to him.  So I said “It’s not very good, but it isn’t as I wrote it.  They’ve compressed it and mucked it about.”  He said “I think it’s absolutely brilliant.  And if it’s not as good as what you wrote then I should like to see what you wrote.”

Then I went to fetch some children from the Stratford Council school to pick potatoes.  I was talking to rather a charming master who however wasn’t making much sense about what I wanted.  I said “Donaldson is my name.”  There is a slight smile of enlightenment which people give when they suddenly realise who you are and approve of it.  He said “I read your article in the Countryman” and went off at once and arrived back in no time with the children.

Jack Donaldson
Jack, when last seen


I think I love you very much and I’m quite sure you are the nicest person I know but I am so much more dead than alive at the moment that I can’t be very certain about anything.  However, I thought of something new about you the other day.  You always only bring the best out of me.  That’s why I like you so much.  Almost everyone else brings out other things – things I hate and which humiliate me.  When you are here I’m always nice and that makes me feel good.

Frankie was pregnant at this time although she may not have known it yet. This may account for her feeling overwrought. Also, after 4  years of war, farming and struggling alone she was worn out and depressed. I think that the feeling that the war was nearly over, like the ‘latch-key syndrome’ made it all the harder for her to bear it all patiently.

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A Woman's War