Hard work, getting fit, survival on the farm

Jack was posted abroad (address censored but in fact Egypt – Ismalia) and was at sea for 6 weeks. For the next 4 years he went to most places that the British Army was sent to, organising transport and vital supplies  behind the front line.

Frankie had a new Bailiff, called Carling. He was a much nicer man than the last, but she was still irked by her lack of proper involvement and control, and determined to learn more in order to be able to take over the running of the farm as soon as possible. Carling put as many obstacles in her way as possible.

She went to stay with friends (Leonora and Peter Cazalet) in Kent near the house that she and Jack commissioned from Walter Gropius when they were married. She had had to leave it, in order to farm.

House by Walter Gropius: The Wood House
The Wood House built for Jack and Frankie by Walter Gropius in 1936

2/12/40   I motored down to Kent to see Leonora and look at the Wood House, and arrived about 3 o’clock. They were all taking a gloomy line about food here. They seem to think that, with the present rate of sinkings etc we should, in the not too distant future, get shortage of a type which England has never known. It does seem to me that the children must be alright as long as we can get eggs, butter, milk and vegetables from the farm — also rabbits and we could always kill an occasional hen. In that way we may turn out to have been rather far-sighted. They were all rather gloomy about the war, talking of a five years’ war — and people with husbands in the Middle East can’t take that sort of thing.

The Wood House by Walter Gropius
The Wood House in 2015

Going thro’ London was rather remarkable. It has completely changed since we were there. All the rubble has been carted away into Hyde Park, all the broken windows mended or bricked up and everything tidied up. No-one seeing it for the first time would believe in the Blitz at all. The first sign of British efficiency I have ever seen.

4/12/40   I have begun to dig the garden where you left off. It is quite light land and I can do it quite easily. I have had some very rich pig manure brought down from the farm. This access of energy is as a result of the gloomy food talks at Fairlawne.

We get regular and rather noisy air-raids now.

5/12/40   Cecil Evans came over and gave us £26/15/- for some bullocks. He thought our wheat looked very well.

Peggy persuaded me to go back to Chadshunt with her, which didn’t take much persuading as I was ready for a relief. Last night I got most frightfully drunk. Peggy and I were alone and she just kept on filling up my glass and I just went on drinking. I think I was determined to get jolly for once. Anyway I think it has probably ended my career as a drinker for good.

9/12/40   Last night I literally exhausted myself with grief and misery. I got up late and to the farm at about 11.30. The men were threshing and Carling said Harry was away ill and would I see if I could do his job on the stack. It consisted of pitching the outside sheaves to the man in the middle who pitches them on to the box. I did it until 1 o’clock which nearly killed me but I was determined to go on as I thought if I did it all right Carling would get the habit of counting me in on this sort of job. Then I went back and stayed on the stack until about 4 o’clock. Now this isn’t happiness but is something. The work is much too hard for one to be able to think at all. I am convinced it is the one and only solution for me. So there you are. I am sure I shall stay here and I am sure I shall not be too bad.

Some time ago Bob Laycock was ordered east so he sent Angie and the children to America. When halfway there he was recalled and made Colonel of the Commando’s. And there was Angie, stuck in America. I now hear she has somehow managed to get back on the Clipper. Just as well, as Bob is not the sort of person to leave loose in England. They say he is a wonderful colonel, with a tough lot, Phil (Phil Dunne, her friend Peggy’s husband), Harry Stavordale, Toby Milbanke, Evelyn Waugh, but they all appear to adore him.

Peggy Dunne
Peggy Dunne, one of the greatest friends

10/12/40   This morning I went early to the farm and bagged up 15 bags of chaff. Then I did muck-spreading from 2 till 4. I worked only about half as fast as a man but I think I would get quicker as partly it is a question of fitness and also a little of knack. After this I fed the hens and collected the eggs and I was by then so exhausted that I came home for tea, and did not wait for the milking. As a result of all this I have been quite o.k. and was delighted when Peggy (with whom I had arranged to go to London) put me off, because I would much rather stay here and go on muck-spreading. This is all really rather good and if I can only keep it up I shall get much fitter and be able to do much more and then I think I shall be able to control the gloom completely.

Rose Donaldson
Rose at Chadshunt, home of my godmother Peggy who called me an orangutang


Gosh, I’m stiff to-night. I can hardly move and blisters all over both hands. I always think how much you would love it. However it is keeping me going even without you and for that one must be unendingly grateful.

Jack wrote:

Jack Donaldson in World War II12/12/40   The capture of Sidi Barrani, 3 generals and 6,000 prisoners seems almost too good to be true. It’s wonderful  to have legitimate feelings of optimism for a change.

The Battle of Sidi Barrani (10–11 December 1940) was the opening battle of Operation Compass, the first big British attack of the Western Desert Campaign.

Also a somewhat horrific note, different from his usual cheerful tone:

16/12/40     I’m sitting on a Court of Enquiry to-morrow to find out why certain drugs are missing from the medical stores.

19/12/40    Yesterday the Court of Enquiry was brought to a satisfactory end by a fairly senior officer confessing he had stolen the drugs. Poor devil he was an awful wreck. God preserve us from ever becoming drug-addicts.

20/12/40    The wretched drug-addict dies to-day — poor chap.

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A Woman's War