Better news for Farm and War

Frankie and Jack’s political opinions were strongly left-wing and socialist, though not communist. They were afraid of reprisals, especially against Jack’s war career, if this were noticed too clearly. So they devised a code for referring to the Russians  – Bill’s friends – based on the name of a communist friend and influencer called Bill Carritt (;  and for the Americans, Johnnie’s friends, based on a strongly pro-American friend called Johnnie Miller. It is interesting that this kind of caution was necessary in war time Britain, even when speaking of our Russian allies.

12/7/42   Two things I’ve been trying to say; One, yes, I agree with you at feeling slightly sick at large scale bombing in Germany. And I found the slight jubilance in press and BBC about the homeless absolutely nauseating. Second, if you can send any more sweets Please do, as they are going to be rationed now, so we should be awfully pleased. I don’t know whether it is wrong to ask. If you ask for things from America your letters get stopped, but they seem to treat the Forces differently.

15/7/42   I’ve just got back from London and found your long airgraph. I really am thrilled. It sounds as if it will keep you busy for a bit and also sounds the first job you’ve had which was really worthy of your qualifications. I’m particularly pleased that you will be in direct contact with Bill’s friends (our Russian Allies, still mentioned in code).

Jack wrote:

Jack Donaldson in World War II17/7/42    A small thing happened which pleased me very much yesterday. Robbins and I were having a meeting with Bill’s friends. The Colonel (they are mostly colonels) said that the General, whom I had met with Reggie, had been favourably impressed by my business like attitude and hoped that my presence would make a real difference.

Russian allies and British meeting in Tehran WW2
Jack in a planning meeting with Russian and British military personnel. He is 2nd left, just visible, with glasses
Jack Donaldson with Russian allies, Colonels WW2 Tehran
Jack with Russians in planning meeting



Frankie continued:

Frances Donaldson in World War TwoPlease try and write as often as you can, because, quite apart from the fact that I wilt without letters, I am fascinated by your job. (And madly proud of you. I go around telling everybody you are entirely responsible for the whole of the transport in Persia and that, now the Russian army is split, Timoschenko relies almost entirely on you).

20/7/42   My mouth is stuffed full with some of the sweets you sent. I must say they are wonderful. But unfortunately nearly all gone. I do wish you could see Rose. I’m sure you would adore her. She has very fat stout legs all over mud and scratches, and her face is almost pretty and awfully attractive, and she is really a bitch. I absolutely dote on her.

There seemed to be no fear of the dangers of sugar in those days, and sweets were clearly an important part of daily life, often mentioned. Sweets from the Middle East were particularly delicious

21/7/42   There is a parcel on the chest of drawers in my room. Rose asked me what it was. I said “Shoes”. She turned to Thomas and, in a conversational voice, said “Lucky beggar. She’s always having new shoes”.

22/7/42   Carling arrived to fetch me to go to see a War Committee farm which was open to the local farmers. It was most interesting. Derelict in 1940 it was mainly fallowed last summer and the cultivations done by the plough, four ploughings in May, June, and August, then drilled. No manures of any sort. Result, the best crops I have yet seen. Clyde Higgs was there. He is very pleased with me because I have twice taken his advice, Carling and having the cows abortion tested, (results not yet known). He was rather sweet. I think he must have known that the Stratford bums were trying to spread the rumour that G.H. was going down. Anyway, I was talking to him and Hughes who is Chairman of the War Committee and several other Committee people, and I said I thought the crops were wonderful. Clyde Higgs said “I’ve only seen one better lot”. Someone said “Where is that?” and he said “At Gypsy Hall”. The really sweet thing is that it isn’t true. Ours aren’t as good as theirs and since he isn’t a fool he must know it. But it was sucks for anyone who happened to be standing around and had made dirty cracks in the past and it puts me quids in with the main committee, who are the people who count.

26/7/42   I’m going to describe the farm position which is now sorting itself out and becoming very interesting and exciting. First of all, Pattison will be free to be my paid adviser. I have agreed to pay him 20% of the profits with a minimum of £150. You may think this is an awful lot, but it is the wage of one labourer. I think he will be worth anything. You see I’ve had to deal in the last two years constantly with people who say nothing is possible and cut down and vitiate all my most progressive ideas. If I say to Carling “Let’s do so and so” he finds 40,000 reasons why we can’t. As a result I’ve got very dulled and cautious myself.

Now Pattison is the opposite. He gives me hell about the low production of the farm and is always telling me I must do this and that. I advance Carling’s 40,000 reasons why we can’t and he simply scoffs at them. In addition I would pay a good deal for the negative fact of having someone there to see that I don’t do everything wrong and make a dead loss. So I hope you will agree. By the way, he will also get the use of the old car, as he will be 10 or 12 miles from here and he is very short of capital and won’t keep one for himself. If he didn’t have it the police would take the tyres off it to melt down for the rubber so I don’t think it makes much difference.

Now as to organisation. I should really get a first-class cowman and put him in this house (Didcot, in the village as she was not yet able to move into the farm). I don’t really want to because the thing about first class cowmen is you can’t interfere with them much, — they are in a minor way like bailiffs. If they are really first class this wouldn’t matter but if they are anything less you are stymied again. Also I love the cows, they are my favourite thing and I want to fiddle about with them and work out the technique for a milking bail (which has a lot of snags) for myself.

Caterpillar, or International, tractor
Caterpillar tractor pulling a plough, not discs which were round and cut the surface.

William and three members of the Surrey War Committee arrived to look round the farm. There seemed to be quite a lot to show them. In the first field we were discing before ploughing which they had never seen before. William was delighted because they had been on a field of Clyde Higgs the night before and he had said he ought to be discing it and Clyde Higgs had said it was too hard. We were making a lovely job of it so William was awfully pleased, and the others very interested. Then we have some winter oats of a new variety which everybody is interested in, and the S 23 seed production is new and our beans are the best anyone has seen and we have one rather unusual and very good variety of wheat and a lot of quite interesting leys and they all seemed interested and pleased and they all went away congratulating me. So I feel better because, to tell you the truth, I have been smarting under the dirty cracks of the War Committee even tho’ they were made by people who hadn’t seen the farm.

The children are just going to Sunday school. Last Sunday Rose went for the first time. Thomas has never been able to tell us what happens there except vaguely that it was all about a man called Christ (just like Father). But we asked Rose, and she told us the story of the widow’s mite, only she thought it was mice.

Life is very dreary as the sweet rationing has begun and is 2oz a week. I haven’t mentioned the war, which seems to be going extremely badly. The only thing is not to think about it at all. We never thought it would be as long as it has been did we?

stooks WWII
Stooks in a field, made up from grain cut and tied into sheaves, before the arrival of combine harvesters

29/7/42   Last year there was a certain field of oats that got wet and kept getting blown over in stook. Molly and I and any other women available stooked and re-stooked it innumerable times. Yesterday at lunch I said I was going stooking and Thomas said he would come and help. Rose said “I shall come and push them over”. I looked very shocked and said “You wouldn’t do that!” She then said ”Well, Manning and I did last year”. (Manning is a little village boy). She then told how, when we had set up some stooks and turned our backs, she and Manning pushed them over. She said with a great deal of relish that “Molly came along and said O my Goodness, ‘ere’s another one fallen over”. She knew she was telling a monstrous story, and when she is conscious of guilt she looks fearfully shy but covers it with a sort of brave bitchiness. We asked her where it was she had done this? She looked rather disconcerted and then said “You know, in the stooking field”. There was something incredibly sweet about that. She was only 3 when she did it and is only 4 now. She is an endless source of wonder to me because I can’t think where she gets it all from. She is not like me — she has more humour — and she’s not really like you. I’m sure you were never slyly mischievous in the way she is when you were little, tho’ her guts and her trust that everyone is going to like her probably comes from you.

Yesterday morning I was woken up by a German aeroplane letting off a machine gun outside my window — the first I have heard. No casualties as far as I know — it was really several miles away.

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A Woman's War