59 Mastitis and war news 1943

21/8/43   When the new cowman annoyed me this morning I was automatically, and without feeling, as tough as it’s possible to be. We got straight into whether we suited each other and whether he’d better go or stay — he, of course, started that. I said he could do what he damn pleased, but if he stayed he’d do things the way I wanted them done.

The war has stuck again, hasn’t it? I’m worried about the Russians. For the last six months I’ve taken the view that our plans must be good ones because Stalin had stopped asking for a second front and therefore must know what we intend to do and be satisfied with it. But perhaps by the time you get this, something will have been done which will satisfy them. If not it will be another three years before you’ve worked out your service abroad and by then you’ll have to come and get me out of Bedlam.

What annoys me is not being able to take up my bed and walk. That is the only panacea I’ve ever had for a rut of depression. Break loose, start again and see every one in hell. But I can’t do it. So this letter goes from Wilmcote to the place the censors still think is a secret to bring you nothing but gloom and depression.

maxim Litvinov
Maxim Litvinov

30/8/43   I think the news is awful. Talk, talk, talk, and nothing done. And I am terrified by the withdrawal of Litvinoff which when it happened before was the beginning of the end. But then I have an awful temperament. I think I ought really to join Claude Cockburn on The Week. I know no one but he and I who can consistently see nothing but bad in what appears to everyone else to be good. I wish you’d come home my honey. Then perhaps I’d change my ways.




Darling I’m so awfully sorry about dreadful letters last week. I don’t suppose I’m like that really at all. So you must always think of me as I used to be and not worry about what I’m like now because I shall be all right when you get back. And I’m sorry I haven’t more guts. I should have. But I’ve had a bad time I think. With the one exception of the fact that I’ve got the children, which is a pretty big exception, I think I’ve had a much worse time than you. Because Teheran and all that does keep the time moving and the juices rising whereas this has really been one long endurance test.

So forgive it all and love me as I love you which is as much as anyone could.

In answer, but some time later, she got the following letter from Jack:

Jack wrote:

Jack Donaldson in World War II13/9/43    I have been so immensely proud of what you’ve done, and every one I’ve told about it has been so full of praise and envy, and often even said they wished their own wives had the guts to do the same. So you can feel that, to the ordinary chap I meet out here, what you have done has been almost a wish-fulfilment of his own ambitions. Everyone wants a farm after the war to go back to, and we’re the only ones I know who’ve had the courage and brains, energy and determination, not only to get one but to make a success of it … and write a first-class book into the bargain.

I suppose I’ve lent the book to some 50 people, and several have read it independently. I’ve never had it back without the most sincere and genuine compliments, and I feel proud each time. When you gloom about life, because I feel the gloom so deeply myself I realize it’s worse in every single aspect for you. You’ve done something truly remarkable and widely recognised as such, so if you can keep it up till I get back, it will be all the more so. If you can’t, it will in no way detract from the fact behind you and you can, with a perfectly clear conscience, stop the whole thing and find another temporary solution. I can only give you my absolute confidence in whatever you do. I recommend more holidays and a bit of gaiety if you can find it, and some company if you can get it. People sometimes help to pull one out of introspection and depression. What you’ve endured is three times longer than anything you’ve got to endure in the future, so keep on, darling.

Frankie wrote:

Frances Donaldson in World War Two5/9/43   I’ve completely recovered my spirits and feel all right again. I don’t myself understand exactly what happens during the very bad phases.

8/9/43   I don’t think I’ve ever described to you the formidable nature of GH meals. At the moment we have Win, who either has a worm or something psychologically wrong which turns her mind to food. I’ve never seen anyone eat like it.

Then there’s Nora, who is rude and rough and by turns sulky or out to entertain with dull stories about what she said to the butcher. Then there are the two children who quarrel incessantly and usually make scenes about their food. My method of enduring all this is to withdraw from it. I’m told I very often have to be addressed three times before I even hear it. This doesn’t seem to me to be a hysterical defence but a perfectly good rational one, and if I didn’t do it I could not stand it at all.

We’ve been burning stubble which is both frightening and exciting and I never wish to be in a forest fire.

15/9/43   I don’t know where you are. You should be in Sicily but perhaps you are in Italy. I always find it disconcerting to write to you when I don’t know where you are, and I’m not getting any letters from you so there is nothing to answer.

17/9/43    I think I’d better tell you about the cows. You know that the milk yields are always disappointing and the reason we don’t make more profit is that.  About a year ago I changed my vet and acquired a first class live wire called Gold. Soon after he came here we started a new kind of mastitis. This is a virulent disease and not enough is known about it. Most vets and cowmen do nothing much. The more progressive dose with sulphanilamide which is M & B.

milking bail Gypsy Hall farm WW2
Cows being washed and prepared for milking

Gold is like the Peckham doctors in that he takes tests to find out what things are. Ordinary mastitis is a streptoccus, but there is another kind, which most vets have never heard of, which is a staphiloccus  (staphylococcus). Sulphanilamide won’t touch this and it is much more difficult to cure and there is no prophylactic. Ours is a Stapholoccus and we have it in a chronic but not in an acute form and we lately tested every cow in the herd. Only three were without a positive reaction. Gold admits himself beat. He doesn’t know what the original source is. He thinks, and we agree, that we have probably had it from the beginning. It is more prevalent on the Warwickshire clays than anywhere else, and he thinks it may be the hard water. This theory would account for our consistently poor yields. Jolly, isn’t it?

21/9/43   You’ve been away so long that I find it difficult to write to you now. You seem so awfully remote working twelve or fourteen hours a day on something we none of us know about that I can’t believe it would be of much interest to you either.

The cow situation is horrifying and also frightening. It could bust us. I wrote to you about the mastitis. It’s getting worse and worse. Before a cow calves you steam her up with a lot of food so that she will be fit to milk. I keep doing that and, as I’m milking myself, I take immense trouble feeding ahead of her yield etc to get her to milk well; a lot of good cows have calved lately and so I get them up to 4 ½ – 5 ½ gallons, and then the mastitis starts and, within a week, they are down to 2 gallons. It really is the most depressing thing that has ever happened to me and hangs like a cloud of depression round my head all day. We have been producing about 40 gallons a day for weeks. Every time a new cow calves we get it up a few gallons and then it immediately returns to 40. We should be sending away at least 60. On top of this all the cows’ records are going to hell. And there’s nothing in the world we can do about it except grin and bear it.

Thomas goes back to school to-day. I do hope he will settle down and improve a bit.


I can’t help being depressed. The cows have such a depressing effect. I’m milking them myself, and to watch good cows drop and drop twice a day is enough to finish anyone I think. Still, I’m having such a lot of bad luck lately, my luck is bound to turn soon.

24/9/43   I’ve been up at 6 for a fortnight doing the milking. The only way I can cope with that is by going to bed at 8. But last night I had to take a sugar-beet plough over to Pat’s. Pat took Meg away from me. It’s quite justifiable. He got her in the first place and he has never quite given her to me and he has far more sheep than I have. But I was furious, even if it is absolutely justifiable. Anyway I got to bed at 12 and was up at 6 and I feel like hell.

27/9/43   I agree with all you say about the farm and I also agree with what you don’t say which is that you would be disappointed if I did chuck it up. But if you like to have it there and if you want to be able to come back to it then that is sufficient point. I think you’ve earned it so I’ll carry on and see you get it.

1/10/43   I had lunch with Phil to-day. He told me all about you; also that it was you who got him here because he had only permission from Bob (Laycock) to hitch-hike if he could.  I was rather surprised because I didn’t know you had control of all forms of movement including that one. Phil was very sweet about you, tho’ he didn’t like driving with you because you would keep the laws about passing. He said “Jack’s so nice. Everybody notices it. They all said to me “Fancy you having such a nice friend”.” He said you wouldn’t talk politics because a) you were too tired to talk about them (and we agreed you must be very tired) and b) it wasn’t worth arguing with him anyway. Is there any inoculation about cholera and, if so, would you oblige me by having it?

How about your being back for the 5th Christmas of the war?

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A Woman's War