Learning to plough, starting to milk

Frankie continued to prepare herself for managing without a bailiff. She went to another farm as part of learning to plough and on her return from that she started taking an active part in the daily milking at Gypsy Hall.

10/4/42   This morning I got an aircard from you in which you say you have just got an airgraph telling you I had decided to do without Carling and that you are very excited and anyway you’d rather I spoilt the farm myself than had someone else run it. Considering you seem to have got an airgraph very much out of order and really telling you nothing of the reasons, I do think it is a splendid reaction. Until I got your letter I was faintly miserable. I can’t think why I ever thought you would disapprove because of course you are really far more courageous than me and like change and new excitements even more than I do. I am whooping with joy about your being on my side, but I sent you a cable to-day just to make sure you don’t mind what I do.

12/4/42   I am going to Wilkins for a week (I told you about him earlier) to learn how to set and use agricultural implements. I don’t think I shall stay very long, probably a week, and try to make a success with him and his family so that I can go back in June or July when he is ploughing for summer fallow. Sometimes I wonder how much of what I write makes sense to you. Do you, for instance, understand the term Summer Fallow? I suppose you do, and, anyway, your great mind can work it out.

I got £300 in for wheat yesterday and paid every other debt we have in the world. I have several expenses still in front of me but I also have enough to cover them coming in in the next few months. So, by the time you get this, you can, without going in for wild extravagance, let up a trifle on any economies which really spoil your fun.

By the way, I sent you The Stricken Field by Martha Gellhorn, Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler and Men and Politics by Louis Fischer. All three are first class and had a great effect on me. So read them with care.

Frances Donaldson Fordson tractor. Also used for learning to plough
Frankie driving the Fordson tractor. This was also the tractor that we rode on , on the mudguards

13/4/42   The Manor Farm, Brizenorton   I am here to learn as much as I can about ploughing and cultivations etc. This is a most remarkable family. There are two sons, one of whom was once at Moulton. The father is a farmer, with about 650 acres. The sons live at home, but they run a contracting business, and have a smaller farm of their own. They are super inventive mechanics. Normally a Fordson tractor is only used to pull a two furrow plough. These boys use — under good conditions — a four furrow with a Fordson, or under less good conditions a three furrow. As far as I can make out it has nothing to do with hotting up the tractor but merely with exquisitely fine adjustments of the setting of the plough. I think all that will remain beyond me, but they are intelligent boys and are going to teach me how to plough. I arrived here last night. I have learned three or four things already.

  1. They fill the tractor wheels with water instead of air. This gives more grip.
  2. In operations like rolling, harrowing etc, they go round the field instead of up and down. It is quicker because there is so much less turning and doing the same bit twice on the headland, and I can’t think why everyone doesn’t do it.
  3. They grease the implements like maniacs all day, once every hour rather than once a day.

15/4/42   Brizenorton   Yesterday I tractored all day until 8.30 pm. I was cultivating. I drew a compliment from Ted. He said he had always thought tractoring was a man’s job, but he thought he might have to change his mind. I said “Do you really think I’m getting on all right?” He said “Well, you’re getting on far better than I ever expected you to”.

21/4/42   Brize Norton   I am back here for the second week of this horrible tractor course. I think agricultural people are the most tiresome and the most conceited in the world. They have an attitude of self-importance which no-one else in the world has. I think it is because they never go anywhere or do anything but their own job. If they got out bit they would find out about all the things they don’t know. Ted has exactly the same kind of conceit that Carling had — I recognise it a mile off now. However I’ve managed in the last two days to plough twice for about twenty minutes each time. I’ve made this discovery. IT’S EASY. But never make the mistake of telling people that I say any of these things are easy. If we want to be accepted as real farmers we shall have to go on pretending it’s all very difficult only we’re so brilliant we can do it. The principle is easily understood, tho’ it might take a long time to do it well. When I can explain to you in ten minutes something that it has taken me ten months of patience and control to learn it may make it all seem worthwhile. To-morrow I am going home.

27/4/42   It is so odd to think of you having breakfast in bed sucking oranges while looking at the Mediterranean while I am here in this absurd little house. All your life you will say things like “When I was in Iraq” and I know that in twenty years time I shall still feel slightly cross when you say it because I can’t bear you to have any life without me.

30/4/42   I think we shall certainly make a profit on the second year, that is very good, isn’t it?

2/5/42   Well, I have put the children to bed and how tiresome they were and how I cursed them. It seems curious to think of me putting the children to bed and getting bored with them while you haven’t even seen them for eighteen months. I wonder how long your excitement at seeing them would prevent you getting bored with them. If I know anything of you, for about ten minutes.

3/5/42   To-day is Sunday and I have been tractoring all day. I summoned Pattison to come and look at the wireworm in the wheat, and he advised harrowing it again with heavy harrows, top dressing it, and then rolling it with the tractor wheels. As no-one else was going to use the tractor on Sunday I thought I’d have a go. It turned out to be perfectly practicable and not nearly as slow as one would imagine. I should think I did three acres — I certainly did all the worst patches on the field. I hope it will really do some good.

Nora was out so I had also to mind the children. I disposed of this problem by taking them on the tractor with me. Molly, who kindly fetched them at tea-time and took them to tea with her so that I could go on, said they looked too sweet for words hanging one to each mudguard. Tractoring is very tiring. I suppose it is the vibration and the noise. I am dead beat to-night. To-morrow I am going to get up at 6 as I am going to spend a month or two in the milking shed under Hall’s tuition. Whether I find another farm or not Clyde Higgs did galvanise me into action by his bit of advice. It keeps me busy and of course I really am beginning to learn something at last. So when you come home we shall be in a good position to run a farm.

4/4/42   I rose at 6.15, dressed in ten minutes without overmuch washing (my habits are changing a lot), and was at the farm by 6.30. Back to breakfast at 8.30 after milking.

Land girl in world war II
Marjorie the land girl, bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar

Hall, our cowman, is a neat, youngish, rather vague-looking man with considerable personal charm and horn-rimmed spectacles. But apparently he has the devil of a temper. Marjorie, the land girl, hates him and everyone keeps out of his way. This morning he was quiet and efficient with the cows and very good and charming at instructing me. When I went up to the farm I met Mrs Carling, full of smiles, and said “what’s the joke?” “Well” she said “we consider you’ve done a good job in the milking shed already. Usually the swearing and cursing in the shed can be heard all over the farm, but this morning there wasn’t a sound.” Apparently Marjorie had gone round in high glee calling all the men to come and listen to the silence. Carling told me he asked Hall how he got on with me. “Quite all right” he said, “a bloody sight more sense than Raymond”. As Raymond is a mental defective under the statutory Act, this was not quite the class of compliment it might sound.
Quote from Marjorie in bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar  “ I was sent to Gypsy Hall Farm at Wilmcote to work for a Mr and Mrs Carling; the bailiff of the farm. Gypsy Hall was a much larger farm and had a pedigree herd of Ayrshire cattle. They had long horns and seemed to love jumping hedges. I can still remember the misty mornings that were a sure sign of another hot, summer’s day. My time at Gypsy Hall was very happy as we all got on so well.”

milking ayrshire dairy cows WWII
Landgirl Marjorie milking in the bail.

6/5/42   I’ve been in the cowshed twice a day and yesterday I went tractoring as well and I got tired. There is one thing I’ve noticed before about Carling. He’ll fight to the last ditch to stop me doing things, but once I’ve forced my way in and can do something he’ll always use me and be glad to. I am now looked on quite seriously as a spare tractor driver and always summoned when he is short. I think I’m getting on quite well with the cows.

I’m happier on the farm than I have ever been and I am getting on better with Carling that I ever have. For one thing he has taken to minding his p’s and q’s with me and for another, since I’ve been doing more work, I’ve got on better terms with the men. I used to feel completely separated from them and that me feel uneasy. Raymond the half-wit is really the sweetest. He is not as stupid as all that and he is quite uninhibited and straight-forward. He has very good manners, but in the cowshed he orders me about as tho’ he was head cowman and without any self-consciousness. I find it most endearing.

I wish you could see our leys. They are at long last a triumph. It is very fine but dry and there has been no rain for weeks and all the permanent pasture is like a billiard table but the leys are glossy and green and fit for a queen. I am glad, because last year they were so disappointing and they are my one real contribution to G.H.

Frankie later, in 1955, wrote a book called Milk Without Tears where she discussed ley farming in some detail in the chapter on Grassland Farming, Summer Milk.

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A Woman's War