Farmer Donaldson at last. "I am a FARMER"

I really ought to have a tremendous lot to tell you but there is so much going on that I am in a maze, and can’t sort it out. If you can imagine having all the small details of moving house, plus engaging and trying to settle in new staff, plus making arrangements for a sale, plus doing the milking, plus trying to get two cottages built, plus finishing the harvest, plus making sure the seeds will be here for the drilling, plus the thousand and one things there are to see to on a farm anyway, plus arranging to get the children off to Katta’s and get their winter clothes, plus go to Moulton to-morrow and deliver a speech to twenty children who have won a six weeks course there as a prize in a Farmer’s Weekly competition, you will have some idea what my life is like, and will understand it is no use trying to tell you about it.

16/9/42   For absolutely no good reason I’m feeling rather gay. So I’m taking ½ an hour off to write to you and whilst doing so I’m having an orgy of Jack Teagarden.

Nanny Gosden
Old Nan with Rose and Thomas, helping Frankie in the wartime

To-morrow I take the children to London and hand them over to Nanny (Old Nan, my father’s nanny) who will take them on to Katta’s. I shall have a long day because I’ve got to get their winter clothes and then get back here. I shall be glad when that’s over. For the last two days I have relieved Highman ploughing for an hour at lunch. Of course it is quite absurd, and if there are two long strips where the corn doesn’t grow I for one shall know exactly why. But at the same time it’s great fun and makes me feel it’s all going to be most enjoyable, in spite of being short of every sort of labour. And Highman is frightfully nice. It is a pleasure to talk to him. He is so straightforward and sweet. He practically never says anything but yes, anyway, which is just what I like. Then the milking is going better. I’ve got Cyril Wheeldon and Margaret (Pattisons’s girl) in there now and they are both coming on a lot, especially Cyril. They are as quiet as mice with the cows and very clean, which is something quite new at G.H. and makes milking a pleasure.

Tho’ I have to supervise a lot, we have practically got to the point where I can turn up late and leave early if I want to. Of course, all this optimism won’t last and to-morrow I shall be telling you how awful everything is. Still, I’m sure, sooner or later, it’s going to be such fun as has never been known. And, of course, if one has enough fun, one does not have to make such terrific profits because fun is better than money any way and I’m sure you will agree.

I am a farmer

21/9/42   Note the date — now I am a FARMER, tho’ you wouldn’t think it if you saw me, because I look like nothing so much as a housewife rather inefficiently moving house. I haven’t got cold feet at all and I think it’s going to be fun and I have only one wish — that you were here.

26/9/42    I don’t know where to begin. But I suppose the most important thing is the farm. I think it’s going to be o.k. I thought before that the first week would be a nightmare trying to decide what every one ought to do etc. It’s quite easy with the tractor drivers and the stock people because they just do routine work but what, I wondered, did people like Oakley (the deaf and dumb) do before breakfast and on days when there was no obvious gang work like hoeing or harvesting? However, it doesn’t arise. The difficulty is to find enough people to do all the thousands of little odd jobs that need doing. All that you just swing into without difficulty and don’t really think about. It’s all going well.

Frances Donaldson and Mr Highman. "I am a farmer"
Frances Donaldson with Mr Highman who became her foreman when she stopped having a bailiff to run the farm and took over herself

I must describe the staff. First of all Highman is super as a foreman — at least for me. He is a man without an inferiority complex and you know how rare that is. He’s never touchy and never obstructive and he’s quite obviously out for the best. So that, if he disagrees with me or advances some reason why I shouldn’t do something, I never suspect an ulterior motive. Then he turns out to be awfully good at a lot of things. When Carling used to earmark the pigs he did it with two men and fiddled about discussing which way the numbers should go for hours. Highman did it this week with one girl and a speed and precision which was a treat to watch. He’s  obviously keen to make a success of it and looks awfully eager and happy and is sweet to everyone.

His faults probably are that he doesn’t think ahead, isn’t used to organisation and may not be forceful enough with the men. But I think I can supply all that. Any way I’m much more pleased with the first week than I ever thought I would be. By the way, I’m giving Highman £4 and paying his cottage.

Then there’s Cyril Wheeldon aged 18 rather lacking in force but quite a nice pleasant little cowman — would be perfectly good as second to a good man and very useful as a relief tractor driver. Very keen this week and working incredibly long hours. Both he and Highman have been ploughing by moonlight up to about 9 o’clock. Cyril was getting the under 21 standard rate of 45/-. I’ve raised him to £3 which is the over 21 rate as I don’t think I could replace him for less. Then there’s Oakley, the deaf and dumb. Then on Monday Sharp starts.

Landgirls, WW2, Gypsy Hall Farm
Landgirls. You can see at least 4 women working in this picture

That’s all the men, but, including me, there are five women, and Pattison calls it the Nunnery and Oakley has been heard to announce that he’s sick of this bloody Women’s Institute. There’s Jessie who four months ago was a typist in Birmingham, came to us in July and is absolutely first class in every way. She does the horses, the pigs and the hens, which is too much and she will have to be relieved soon. Then there’s Margaret, who’s the girl Pattison got and who was not good to start with but who has come on 100% lately. She is supposed to be difficult and moody after the first three months and maybe she will be, but she’s Scotch and touchy and seems to respond to being treated rather well, so maybe she won’t. She’s excellent with stock and a great help temporarily.

landgirls WWII
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Then there’s Peggy who is the tractor driver in the canal cottage. She’s not 100% on a tractor as yet — she can’t start them yet and sometimes stops them and so on, but she’s not too bad and a useful relief driver and a very nice girl and quite fairly intelligent. Then there’s Sheila Rees Mogg who is Mummy’s friend, awfully stupid in some ways but quite useful in others. That’s the lot and it’s not nearly enough but it’s all fairly good and everyone is mad keen and working hard and I — much to my own surprise — am taking it without anxiety or neurotic worrying. I think it’s because I’m so damn busy I haven’t the time to turn round much less worry about anything. And I think it will go well, probably with occasional horrible lapses.

I think I’m going to like the house quite enormously. I am spending an unreasonable amount of money on it in an effort to make it easy to run as well as pretty and comfortable. It has a nice atmosphere now I’ve got rid of the dark brown paint and I think it’s going to be really gay and jolly. Anyway I love it so perhaps we’ll stay here for some time after all.

27/9/42   One effect of being so busy is that I never worry. You know how I normally stew over things. Well now one passes on to the next thing so quickly one simply hasn’t time. It makes one’s attitude to life much more like a man’s.


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A Woman's War