12/12/42 Stapes rang up at lunchtime and suggested they came over. It’s the first time he’s been here since 1941. He said a) I am a very good ley farmer and b) he thought they ought to hold one of their neighbours’ days at Gypsy Hall, and c) that all my leys except one were excellent. The wheat is also beginning to look extremely well so the whole thing was quite fun. The only pity is that I have no cows to graze the leys. I do wish I could buy some cows. Metcalfe is doing so well with the present ones and all the yields are going up and up. If only I had more cows I should really be making some money.
How awful the Darlan thing is! The Statesman has some trenchant things to say. “The attempt to co-operate with Darlan is as morally pleasant and looks like being as militarily satisfactory as Munich”. I think the whole thing is shocking and disgusting.
17/12/42 I met a group of Free French pilots the other night. They are very sad people, homeless, familyless, with no very great pride in their small group and no very great faith in their leader, yet glad they aren’t Vichy. They get little love from us or the Americans, and now that we’re officially approving of the arch-traitor Darlan they feel pretty shattered. They struck me as empty, lonely and sad.
20/12/42 A bad week. I got to London on Wednesday because of Mummy’s going into hospital on Thursday for her operation on Saturday. On Friday a message came to say that the children were ill and I ought to go home. I dashed straight back to the flat to find a wire from Nora about illness, saying the children had got measles or scarlet fever. I caught the first train and got home at 7 to find that it was Rose not Thomas and that the doctor said he would wait till the next day to give a final diagnosis. I rang him up and he said it was 6 to 4 on scarlet fever. I then rang Anni and had a long talk. She said, if it was scarlet, I ought to make up my mind to send Rose to the Hospital. She said it would be impossible to isolate her here and that fever hospitals were usually extremely good. Actually there was very little else I could do. Dr McWhinney came the next morning and confirmed scarlet fever. He thought, too, that she ought to go to the fever hospital. He said I could be forced to send her unless she could be adequately isolated.
It was particularly important that someone with scarlet fever should be kept in isolation because of the milking cows. Also in living memory at that time scarlet fever had been an often fatal disease. Charles Darwin lost two of his children to scarlet fever. By the 1950s both changes in the disease and antibiotics had made it the relatively harmless illness that we think of today.
I knew all the time that there wasn’t a hope because that couldn’t be done here for all sorts of reasons. Rose (aged just 5) herself was really wonderful and tremendously endearing. During the time I had been away she was apparently really ill and they say she never once cried or made a murmur. Once when Thomas went to see her she told him to go away. Yesterday I went into her room and said “Now, look here, Rosebuddy, you’re going to go to a sort of school. It’s not really a school and you won’t do lessons but there will be lots of other little girls and boys and you’ll have a lot of fun. And anyway it will be good practice for school and you’ll be able to tell Thomas all about it.”
She didn’t say anything and she looked quite inscrutable. She looked as tho’ she was suspending judgment but prepared to wait and see. She never did say anything about it but when the nurse came she went off with her in the ambulance without a murmur. I called yesterday afternoon and telephoned this morning and both times they said she was perfectly happy and playing with the other children. I must say I am glad we have brought them up to be self-reliant. She takes this sort of thing in her stride and of course that takes 3/4 of the horror out of it.
I remember the illness, the hospital and the wheelbarrow for Christmas. I remember being by the window and seeing my mother and brother but not being able to think of anything to say to them. When an awkward silence fell into the rather artificial conversation I remember rather wishing they would go away. How shocking is that?
I was, as I usually am in a real crisis, quite alright and actually I didn’t really worry. One could hardly make a fuss with Rose herself behaving with such admirable composure. She’s a tough one and I was proud of her. The shortest period for the disease is 28 days and Dr McWhinney says it might go on for two months.
21/12/42 Since I wrote, Thomas has turned out to have impetigo. I must say! Three weeks of the village school and scarlet fever and impetigo! I went to see Rose to-day. You stand in a garden and look and shout thro’ a closed window. When I first looked she was sitting up in bed and fairly tucking into her tea. Then they wheeled the bed over to the window. Her face lit up when she saw me. She looked perfectly well except that her face was covered with impetigo. She was very slummy, her hair all over her face and dirty pyjamas.
I said Are you having lots of fun?” “Yes”. “Do you absolutely love it?” “Yes”. “Better than school?” “Yes”. “Then you don’t mind if you don’t come home for a bit?” “No”. At this moment the nurse brought her tea over, and in the cup was very weak tea. Rose pointed to it and in a voice of complete triumph said “We ‘ave tea ‘ere”. I said I’d tell Thomas. I think she really is absolutely happy. She is a great little girl and I think you will be really fond of her.
23/12/42 I do feel we have been separated too long — you say this too, and ask about changes. I think I have changed. When I dress myself up and do my hair and face, I think I look about the same. Anyway I always get a few compliments when I go to London. But on ordinary days I can look very old, thin and lined. Of course my clothes, a very filthy battle dress or some faded dungarees, don’t help. Then my habits have changed quite a bit. I often think how amused you would be if you could see how dirty I often am. You see, if you get up at 6 in the dark and in a hurry and the water is cold, there isn’t anyone living who would wash after about the first three mornings. And I just don’t. I always have a bath at night if the water is alright and it usually is but occasionally a ball-cock on some distant trough goes wrong and the water runs out all day and there is no water in the house at night. I have been known to go without a real wash for three or four days. I occasionally smell — either of sweat or sour milk — but not for too long.
Now would you believe any of that? As to whether I have changed in character I simply don’t know. It will be interesting to see what you think. But surely I must have. I have done so much and suffered a lot, both on your account and in all the sordid ways of coping with Carling etc. Thank God that last is over. Anyway, I’d like a nice holiday. I’d like you to be there and I’d like the sea and the sun, Runton would do, and I’d like a lot of cocktails and lobsters and nothing at all to do. That’s a long way off, I fear. I do resent getting older during the war. I wonder whether I shall be able to face having any more children. It’s not the having them. It’s the nappies and the nannies and the horses and the scarlet fevers.
25/12/42 I am whooping with joy about Admiral Darlan. I think it is the best news for ages because, whatever is right and whatever is wrong, I’m sure he is better dead. I do hope a Frenchman did it.
27/12/42 I went to see Rose this afternoon and it was a good thing I did as apparently she was expecting me. There were a lot of people all shouting thro’ the window and I couldn’t find the nurse. But I could see her (Rose) thro’ a crack. She was fidgeting about and presently she got firmly up and sat on the end of the bed where she could see the window better. When she was pushed over she looked well and the impetigo was much better. She said she had a big bit of chocolate and some “gooms” for Christmas and she ate them all in one day and she had a weelbarrer from Daddy. She was still quite happy and she knows the form. She said she had to stay in bed for another week and then she would get up in a blanket. She said “We have two baths a week”.
I am disappointed that, tho’ it was a Frenchman who shot Darlan it was the wrong kind of Frenchman.
30/12/42 I am worried about the children. I can’t take their catching all these awful illnesses but also they are completely uneducated. But as day schools and governesses are out the only possible alternative is boarding school. Do you feel it is out of all possibility? Molly (Jack’s sister, Molly Shawcross) has sent Sammy to a boarding school, and I think a lot of parents have sent very young children owing to the insuperable difficulties created by the war. Nanny is very keen I should send them. Thomas will have to go I think next autumn for the sake of education, and I think when he goes Rose might just as well go too as she would be lonely here.
Pete was rather against it and I of course am against it myself. But I am also against scarlet fever and impetigo and a total lack of education and there doesn’t seem to be any middle course. I wish you would think about it and let me know what you think. They have a wonderful life here in many ways but in others not so good. Nora is rough and rude with them and, tho’ she has really a good heart, is superficially a horrible person to live with. And I am always busy and often tired and cross. So that, tho’ they have plenty of fun, they also have a very rough and ready life and their accents and general outlook on life are really rather too terrible. I wish I sometimes had days with nothing to do and more time for the children.
23/12/42 What is such fun for me is, that no-one’s wife has done anything at all. Coney, Barbara, all my colleagues’ wives, they’re just wives doing a bit of war-work. But you’ve done two very remarkable things, farming on your own successfully, and writing and speaking about it in such a way that you’ve become “an interesting person”, someone whom strangers are interested to look at and perhaps speak to, to see what she’s like and so on. Two very remarkable feats, and either could have been done without the other.