Improving standards on the farm

Frankie was always a perfectionist. Nearly everything she took on she did well at, be it golf, tennis, hunting, dog-training, now farming, later writing. It really irked her to see the poor standards maintained on the farm. Improving standards was an important part of her battle with the men who were in charge because she could not yet manage it by herself. She was determined to learn.

30/1/41   Rather a curious thing happened to-night. You know I don’t always and entirely get on with Carling (the new bailiff). I hate having to take an opposing line with him because I am never sure we shall get thro’ it without badly annoying each other.

Well, the milking is not properly done. Quite apart from the fact that the cows are not stripped after the machine which they have got to be and I had already told him they had got to be once we got a decent head man, the whole performance is the most incredibly slapdash and slovenly business.

Milking cows with Alfalaval machinery. Improving standards
Frankie supervising the milking. She later took it over herself

I went in to-day for the first time for a week or two and found Thomas (the assistant cowman) still doing it alone altho’ the new and highly paid cowman has now been here nearly a month. He made no attempt at all to wash the cows, which is one worse than his usual flick over; if the machine fell off he shoved it back without cleaning it, and he whisked up and down at a speed which suggested he was in for a race, rather than attempting to do a decent job of work.

It is all quite serious because at this rate we shall lose our accredited licence which means 5/- to-day and will mean correspondingly more as our production goes up. So I had to send for Carling and have it out.

I decided while doing it to force the issue over the stripping which has been a slight argument between us for some time. Net result I literally and actually sweated for one hour while waiting for him to come down and see me. I put it as nicely as I could but quite firmly and elicited the following from him. Carling not only agrees with all my criticisms but endorses them heartily and is equally worried about it. I don’t know what we shall do. It looks like trouble all round and more advertisements for men.  The whole thing amuses me as it fits in with my latest theory, originally formed after reading your comments about lack of confidence among your brother officers. Almost nobody has your sort of confidence  and it is the lack of it which causes almost all the trouble in the world. In the case of Carling and me I fear that he will a) take advantage of my lack of knowledge and b) of my being a woman and consequently try to swing things over on me. While he fears that I will take advantage of my ultimate power as boss to give an order to swing things over on him. If we could both get rid of our fears all would be well because neither of us will do what the other fears unless the other does what he fears.

31/1/41   Peggy said that the worst thing about the war was the complete lack of male society, not only your own particular male but all males. I think she is right. Contrary to general belief, women like the society of other women very much, but it gets a bit arid and unstimulating when not mixed at all with masculine society.

1/2/41   There is nothing to recommend to-day except that it is the 1st of February. No more January 1941. The winter is very old and stale and gloom-sodden. There is none of that grim and gayness which Mr Churchill was so eloquent about but only a sort of grim and greyness.

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.

Gas mask in WW2
Gas mask in WWII

Last night Colonel Knox said that from American sources of information it is reasonable to believe that there will be an invasion soon and that gas will be used on a large scale. In case this is true I have had all gas masks equipped with the new attachment and I have decided that when Miss Hands (governess) comes in a fortnight, one of her duties will be to do regular gas mask drill with the children. If the invasion is in full swing when you get this letter it may be a comfort to you to hear it.



4/2/41   To-day, tho’ it froze hard the snow was only thin on the ground so I took a walk round the farm in time to witness my first personal success. Wilkes uses a method of cultivation which is comparatively new and not much tried but he swears by it. It is to disc old pasture 3 or 4 times or 5 or 6 before you plough it. I wanted to try it and Carling and Highman, while pointing out the possible difficulties, fell in with my wishes.
To-day when I went out Highman was ploughing the field and Carling was mending a fence in it. I said to Carling “This is a complete surprise to me. I had no idea you could plough with so much frost in the ground.” He said, ”Well, I don’t believe your could any field except this. But with the discing it is alright and is ploughing perfectly.” So that was rather fun and worked out well.

6/2/41   Clyde Higgs and Johnny Green of the BBC came over this morning. Green said they were going to revive the 5 minutes to 1 series and would I do one? At the beginning of the war it was series at which cabinet ministers exhorted farmers to get on with it. Now it is to be farmers reporting how they have got on with it. I am to represent those farmers who have started farming since the war. I said I would do it, but as far as I can see it boils down to telling the same old story all over again but in even fewer words. Clyde Higgs said he’d help me.

10/2/41   Darling, I am playing with the idea of trying to write a book on my experiences and adventures as a farmer. It is a curious thing to say at the end of a letter as ill-written as this is, but I have a faint feeling I might be able to do it.

I am writing another page to tell you that an aeroplane came down in the field behind the row of houses yesterday. All the village of course went to see but this morning the wonder was over and so there was no-one there except Thomas who went over the fields by himself. He was very sweet about it. He stayed in the hedge and watched the RAF men repairing it but he had a good fright when the propeller started up. However, when he was asked by Nora what he was going to do when he was an airman he said airily,”O you don’t notice it in the air. It’s only on the ground it makes such a noise”.

15/2/41   Last night and to-night I have begun to write my “book”.”

FD: “27/2/41   The farm is going very well. Carling is very efficient. All the beans have failed which means sowing spring one but all the wheat looks good and Mr Stewart was stunned by the beauty of the ploughing which has been done.

2/3/41   Carling wanted to see me yesterday and it was to tell me that Bibby the cowman who is a shit but a bloody good cowman had announced that unless he got an extra 5/- a week he would leave next Friday. He already gets £3.5/-. I told Carling that a) it was blackmail but b) it was, at any rate, temporarily, successful blackmail. We can’t do without him for the moment. I am perfectly certain we shall have one long struggle with cowmen until the war is over and we can build some cottages and get a good married man.

Popeye and Olive Oil 1940 - children's programs
Popeye and Olive Oil 1940

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.

POpeye the sailor
Popeye the Sailorman 1941

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. After lunch Molly and I went up and helped with the threshing which I always love as it is hard exercise. After tea I did some more digging.

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A Woman's War