Childcare in wartime; fostering independence

As well as the farm to manage and worry about Frankie had 2 children. Thomas, aged 4 and Rose aged 3 by this date in the war. The farm idea had partly arisen as a plan to be able to give us the kind of childhood that they had planned before war came along and spoiled all plans. We led a life which today would be considered neglected, but it was part of Frankie’s policy, as well as a necessity.

Thomas Donaldson, one of FRances Donaldson'd children, at the Wood House
Thomas

 

 

26/11/40   Children well — Thomas rather puzzled about prisons. “Will I go to prison because I always waste my food at breakfast?” — the man on the wireless having said people go to prison for wasting food.

 

 

 

21/12/40    The children have just retired to bed having been excruciatingly funny all the evening. Rose was in one of her bad moods. She was very naughty at tea so she didn’t get a sweetie. When I came in I said if they both did their exercises properly they could have one each. They started off but Rose immediately began to play the fool so I ignored her and went on telling Thomas what to do. So she went away and fetched both cats and dumped them down in the middle of the room just as Thomas was coming ponderously up doing “long steps”. Of course he fell over flat and both cats rushed out of the room. Rose turned on him like a vixen and said “What you frighten my cats for?” I said “Oh, shut up Rose; that’s too much.” So she rushed out after the cats saying “Come here my darlings; don’t take any notice of Mummy and Thomas”. We continued to take no notice of her so presently she came and stood with her legs wide apart in the middle of the room bang in the road of Thomas. He saw her in time and stepped round but she side-stepped very quickly and they both went down with a crash together.

 

Rose in the war. (children of Frances Donaldson)
Rose beside the Hillman Minx car

 

I pushed her out and told her she was very naughty, and she rushed to the sofa and took up what has always been her favourite angry position. Head down and bottom stuck in the air. Thomas was by now tiptoeing past and he suddenly caught sight of the bottom. He turned round to me and giggled and said “Shall I?” so I nodded and he caught her the hardest crack he possibly could after taking very slow and deliberate aim. This reduced her to such paroxysms of anger that she had to be carried kicking off to bed. After she had gone Thomas remarked in a very pompous voice “I’ve told Nora to tell Mrs Higley to tell Santa Claus to bring Rose nothink”. I said “Why?” So he said “because she’s so naughty. She won’t drink her milk, she sucks her thumb and she hits me”. I gave him a short lecture on telling tales and sent him off too. I don’t know whether all this will sound funny but it made me laugh so much that the tears streamed down my cheeks. I think Rose’s fat bottom was the funniest.

1/2/41 Thomas can now play Beggar my Neighbour, Old Maid and Snap with ordinary cards like a professional. The other night he went upstairs to have his hair washed and I played cards with Rose, who can’t really play and is far too obstinate and proud to try to learn and therefore just fiddles. Presently she said to me “We play cards, don’t we, Mummy??” Now this is just what Thomas used to say, but the differences in saying it were absolute. His face and voice held only eagerness and excitement and, one might almost say, joy in living. Hers held a whole world of feminine malignity. The remark really meant “You and I play cards while Thomas is upstairs and doesn’t even know, so I am one up on him for once”. But she has a sort of screwed up humourousness in her face which makes the whole thing less wickedly malicious than it may sound on paper.

4/3/41   This morning there were 2 records on the wireless by Popeye the Sailor. It was really rather fun because it is the first time I have seen the children really entertained by an entertainment. They both pealed with laughter. It began with his making one of those queer noises. Thomas asked what the noise was. So I said “It is a man trying to be funny”. Thomas laughed uncontrollably and said “Well, he is being funny as well”. Rose laughed so much I thought she would be sick. It was the most enjoyable beginning to a day. The children are obviously going to have your sense of humour. It was a lovely, lovely day to-day.

29/4/41    Have just been up to say goodnight to the children, who are what Nora calls “wound up” i.e. very giggly. The joke was to call everyone by a wrong name — thus Nora Donaldson, Frankie Higley. I  said “Thomas Pigley” and provoked those very refreshing peals of laughter which is the sweetest thing about all children. Then Rose said “Let me tell you both something. Frankie Glasses and Nora Teeth.” This is her idea of real humour and it seems to me at 3 it might be so….”

Mummy said to Rose this morning “Don’t say moost, say must”. Rose replied “Must, must Mussolini, Moossolini”, with a triumphant inflection on the last word. How’s that for 3 ½?

31/5/41   Here are some specimens of the children’s conversations.

Rose.. Do you want a sweet Thomas?

Thomas.. Yes.

Rose.. Well suck your foot.

(I imagine this inelegant remark must have been overheard not invented).

Thomas.. What have you got on your head, Mummy?

Me.. A new hat. Don’t you like it?

Thomas.. No. I think it’s daft.

Daft is a great word with both of them and is pronounced with a short a.

Rose threw some scissors at Thomas and Mrs Higley improved the shining hour with a story about a little girl who got scissors stuck in her eye.

Rose.. Did you see the blood?

Mrs H.. Yes.

Rose.. Ooh. Then after an interval “Serves her right for being so daft”.

Rose on trike WWII
The children played on the village street or the drive to the farm

 

 

6/6/41   I wish I could give you a picture of the children’s lives. Playing on the road outside the house there will be anything up to 30 children and 2 of these will be ours.

Rose rides the trike with a sort of matron-like determination. She has a blue and white striped summer dress with red braid on it and for some reason she looks very French in it. But like a Madame not a Mademoiselle. I think they are splendid children. Molly finds them quite unusual.

 

 

 

She shows feminine traits already and has chums. These are chiefly the two worst behaved and most devilish girls in the village both of whom are about 8. They rejoice in the names of Sylvie and Ginette. Thomas’ chief friend is still John Highman but he is also occasionally patronised by much older boys who give him pennies and teach him to ride his bike. They both talk fluently and colloquially the same as the village. There are a good many rows and head-hittings but they solve all by themselves.

Wilmcote, home of Frances Donaldson in WWII
The Eighteens (18 cottages in the year 1910), where Nora lived. Our house, before we moved up to the farm was opposite, but the road was tarmac by then, some 30 years later.

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A Woman's War