Independent farmer in WWII. Free from the shackles.

Frankie is now an independent farmer in WWII, managing alone a fair sized farm with an inadequate supply of farm workers. She moves in and out of moods of exhilaration and depression.

19/8/42   Have I ever told you that I have got three young girls, university students, living in the house, two in the spare room and one on the floor of the sitting-room? They are very young and very sweet and intelligent. They are also musical. Their father arrived and spent a day here. He took the gramophone to pieces and took part of it to Stratford to get it mended, but he couldn’t find a single mechanic in the whole town so he had to bring it back. But he has managed to fix it so that we can work it, so we are all going to have terrific concerts.

Frances Donaldson, Gypsy Hall Farm, pony. A farmer in WWII
Frankie on Brown Bread, Rose’s pony later in the story


I’ve bought a little pony for the children. It’s arriving to-day. They don’t know about it yet — they only know there is a surprise coming. We are all excited and it will be great fun taking them down to the station to get it. I paid £10 for it and £1 for the saddle and bridle and 30/- for the rail fare. I told them it was from you and me together.

21/8/42   Terrific excitements. Pattison (whom I now call Pat when I can remember) arrived yesterday to go thro’ the cows and decide which we would cull. He was so horrible about nearly all of them that I was reduced to despair. Then we suddenly decided to have a farm sale to get rid of all of them except about 10 or so and buy new and better ones with the money. I have decided already to get rid of the sheep for the moment, as we have ploughed up so much; and the hens will have to go as without Mrs Carling there is no-one to look after them, and I want to simplify all these small things to start with. So we will have a wonderful sale and we shan’t stand to lose anything because Pattison will post six men round the ring to buy in anything which doesn’t fetch enough. Isn’t it exciting? I’ve been longing to get rid of all those beastly cows for ages.The children’s pony is a great success. They haven’t ridden it at all yet but they lead it about and love it.

25/8/42  Anni and Haschi came over on Sunday, and Anni started a tremendous campaign to make the house really comfortable even at the expense of a good deal of money. She takes the view that a) I have lived like a pig for two years and both deserve and need a break and b) that when you come home we shall have to live in a reasonable way and things will become more and more difficult to get. Of course I very soon got hotted up.

Aga cooker. Perfect for a farmer in WWII
Double sized Aga cooker with 4 ovens.

We went and looked at the house. I thought that, if I put an Aga in the present dairy, that could be the kitchen and the other room would be really nice for the children and for meals. This is impossible without first laying and lighting the fire, as one can no longer get a Primus stove or anything like that. With an Aga all I would have to do would be to boil the kettle. Anyway, I think I shall probably get one if I can, so I hope you won’t disapprove.

We always had an Aga in every farmhouse that we lived in. The bottom left hand oven was a very low temperature and when newborn lambs were found, sometimes unconscious with the cold, they were put there to revive. Ours had an oven door that fell downwards to open, so a sack with a lamb on it could be put inside and the door left down as an extra shelf. Sometimes while eating breakfast we would be surprised by a bleating noise and a little figure woudl jump out of the oven and totter around the kitchen floor, fully revived.

Then the next thing was that the bathroom is lovely but has an exceptionally mean and uncomfortable bath in it. Of course baths and bathrooms do mean rather a lot to me. I could always restore myself to happiness by going into a luxurious looking bathroom and lying for hours in the bath. And Anni painted a tremendous picture of you coming home and being quite unable to get your legs into this one at all. Then I am going to do the decoration fairly lavishly. I feel a bit guilty — I don’t know quite from what standpoint. I think it is because you are away. If you were here I’m sure we should be most extravagant together.

The other part is not going too well for the moment. Pattison’s cowboy and the Turney man both fell thro’. It will be a bit awkward if I have to go on with the milking while moving house and running the farm. However I don’t really care. Pattison is a great standby. I’m really fond of him and I know that, if the worst came to the worst he’ll come and drive the tractor and milk the cows himself.

I’m going to London in the afternoon and shall be away for two days. It breaks my heart to leave the cows even for that long because one of my new and expensive heifers has calved and I like to watch every move she makes in case something goes wrong. But I’ve simply got to order all the things for the house.

30/8/42   I had a very good time in London and succeeded in getting everything I wanted, and luckily remembered the two Peckham Agas and asked Dod and Pete if I could borrow one, which would save the pleasant sum of £77. I got lovely wallpapers and a bath and went in to Sybil Colefax and sat talking to John Fowler for hours.  (Colefax and Fowler were smart interior decorators with a shop in Chelsea). They are going to make me some lovely curtains for my sitting room out of dark green black-out material (which is coupon free) and dark and light green fringes, and some of our old linen sheets for drapery. I think it will be lovely and, quite honestly, I think the farmhouse is going to be quite inconceivably pretty.

Frederick Lonsdale
Freddy Lonsdale, Frankie’s father and a well-known playwright

I had a very amusing letter from Daddy. He says about (his secretary) Chesher “Of course I know she’s well meaning, but then she means well in such extraordinary hats which makes one doubt her sincerity.” He says “tell me about Jack and give him my love and tell him I never cease to think of him. It would be nice to all have dinner together like we used to do.”

I am rather depressed. Everything is squalid and dirty at the farm and I can’t get it right without better men and I have no men, good or bad, even in sight. However I am perfectly certain it will be alright and I will feel gay one day and when the farmhouse is empty I shall do a dance in it even if there isn’t one man left on the farm and I have to do everything myself.

31/8/42   It is all pretty depressing. We haven’t at the moment got so much as a smell of a man and you know our existing staff, with the one exception of Highman, consists entirely of half-wits and untrained girls. They are none of them capable of doing a job without supervision. Idiocies occur every day and are awfully apt to undo in five minutes one’s cherished and carefully arranged work of a week. In addition it pours with rain every day and we are very much behind with the harvest. It is even becoming doubtful whether we shall have finished before Carling goes. So one can’t help being a trifle gloomy. But I don’t regret anything.

3/9/42   The depression is immense and it is now raining and raining. O dear! To-morrow I’m going to Fairlawne for one night to pick out which furniture I want. Leonora will be there so it will be fun, but it will be a long and tiresome journey nowadays (Warwickshire to Kent). The only things that are going well are the arrangements for the house, which I think is going to be divine.

The trouble with me is I’m really tired and stale with all this milking. I could only just about do it with comfort if I was a land girl and had nothing else to do or think about. I find it a bit too much. But don’t think I am seriously grumbling. I wouldn’t change anything if I had a chance to, only I wish it would work itself out a little better. I have very slight cold feet as the time draws nearer for Carling to go. As a foreman Highman is an unknown quantity, and I’m not sure whether I shall know what to tell the men to do in the morning or not.

6/9/43   A very busy day altho’ it’s Sunday. At least it has kept fine so we’ve been carting beans all day. This plus milking makes me nice and tired.

Pattison rang up and said he had half engaged a girl for the cows. Apparently she is a good and experienced girl, and, tho’ we shall eventually have to have a man, she might tide us over the next month or two and then would do as second to him. Then I heard of a girl tractor-driver who wants a cottage because her mother has recently been widowed. I wrote to her and asked if she would fancy a cottage on a canal bank two fields from any road. She rang up this afternoon and seemed keen and is coming out on Tuesday.

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A Woman's War