Mechanising harvest; Italian campaign; Milking

26/7/43   Yesterday Mussolini resigned so I think that deserves a letter.

(July 25/26  Mussolini arrested and the Italian Fascist government falls; Marshal Pietro Badoglio takes over and negotiates with Allies.)

Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini

It’s really the beginning of retribution. I wonder if Hitler feels awfully good and I wonder what he and Mussolini met for. I suppose now one can really count the weeks until Italy is out of the war. What does a resigned dictator do? He can’t take a house in the country, can he? I take it Switzerland won’t be mad keen to have him.

Things are about to change here a lot, too. I have a really efficient secretary and you have no idea what that means. I spend my time saying telephone to that or answer that or make a note of that and it makes life possible instead of absolutely unendurable. The cottages are ready and so, having advertised “two exceptionally good houses”, which is the only bait which attracts anyone nowadays, I have had two answers for a cowman, either of which might do, and so many for the tractor driver’s job that we have had to short list them.

early combine harvester
Early combine harvester cutting corn at Gypsy Hall

Then I’m having 100 acres of wheat cut by a combine, provided the Government dryer is ready in time, and, if this goes all right, not only shall we shorten the harvest but we shall have practically no threshing next winter, which makes the whole difference to the rest of the work. I think in about six months this place will be fit for you to come back to, but whether we shall have any money to live on by then is another matter.

I think I’m definitely going to write a book, probably not till harvest is over, but I’ve just seen how to do it and I think it might really be good.

27/7/43   I got a letter this morning posted on the 17th. I was pleased — it was almost like the first letter when you first got to Cairo. It is rather exciting and it must be fun for you. According to newspaper accounts you will be getting kisses from all the Italian women and wine from all the Italian men. Also it gives me the feeling that you are much nearer home. Geoff Poole is there, a PRO with the press people. You might look out for him if only because he is married to my sister, tho’ why that should be a reason I’m not sure. Phil Dunne is also there, liaison between English and Canadian Commandoes I think. I wish I was there too — it must be far more fun than stooking oats under a hot sun which is how I spent this afternoon.

I wonder if you will have got any of my letters, as I have addressed them all to 12th Army. You say you won’t write much but you’ll try to be regular. I don’t want to be a bore, but it just does make the whole difference to my life to hear from you, even if it’s short and scrappy, and as soon as you can I want to hear details. I think the really wonderful thing about Mussolini is that that sort of thing can happen.

28/7/43   I got a letter of the 10th to-day, having got the 17th yesterday. On July 15th Peter Chance said to me “Aren’t you glad that Jack isn’t in so and so and so and so?” I said “Am I not?” and all the time that’s exactly where you were.

We made a profit, so the books work out, of £650 last year. That means that, even after everything claimed, we’ve got to pay nearly £300 in income tax. Damn it.

farm cottages
Farm workers cottages built at Gypsy Hall

Then the cottages. I’m told they ought to have cost £1,000. They will have cost about £1,500. It is my builder friend, Mr Garlick, who tells me they ought only to have cost £1,000, so I shall try to fight it, but the Ministry of Agriculture seems to be paying as much and more. They are really good and to-day I engaged a cowman who, unless he is a liar, is the top. Among his previous jobs he was five years at Balmoral. I chose him out of some twelve applications, and the real attraction is the cottage. I’m going to take a photograph to send you. They are absolutely square and not much more unpleasant than any ordinary factory.

Every time I think about old Musso I wonder what you are thinking!

31/7/43   Here I’m in a mess. I have arranged for 100 acres to be cut by a combine. The Ministry of Agriculture is erecting a drier and storage place in Stratford and that was where my grain was going to be dried. Believe it or not, and it’s quite easy to believe it, it’s not going to be ready for the harvest. So now I’m left running round in circles trying to find something else. And I can’t. God, I’m getting bored with it. We are carrying oats at the moment (cut the binder). It’s the first time anyone on this farm has ever carried in July, (that is because of the extraordinary season, not because of anything I have done).

The trouble is I’m like you. I could go away from here and face a new set of problems with enthusiasm, but I’m bored stiff with these same old ones. However, I still have a conviction that somehow or other it will straighten itself out. The first field of wheat is due to be cut on Tuesday. If nothing happens over the week-end I shall go into every office on Monday and burst into tears and sit there having hysterics until somebody does something. Rob Hudson told me that Woolton had agreed to take over the lot as it is his Ministry which is responsible for the drier. But none of his local officials know anything about that. So I may have to wire Rob, and if that doesn’t do any good I shall take a match and fire the lot and go to London and pack parcels for the Red Cross.

9/8/43   The Thomas situation is much improved and I am not worrying about it any more. I worry much more about the children because you’re not here.

Combine harvester. Highman and ?Cyril Wheeldon
Loading corn straight into sacks in the field

The combining of the wheat is working away and is really the most miraculous thing. Not only is everything done in one but it means that, as the combine leaves the field, the plough can go in. So that next year’s drilling ought to be completed three or four weeks earlier than it otherwise would.

It seems to change the whole business of farming from the hell of a nuisance to a pleasure. At the moment we all have a slightly guilty feeling as tho’ we ought to be doing an awful lot of work we are not doing. I have been so disconcerted by the whole thing, particularly as with it have arrived one extra man and a secretary, that it all seems too good to be true and I have even started to write a book. I really believe that next winter I shall get some hedges laid and the buildings tidied up. So it will be ready to sell in the spring if you come home and we should decide to do so.

Land girl 1943 WW2
Landgirl recording day’s milking details

19/8/43   The cows are a mess, and I can’t produce clean milk. After two years of chivying cowmen it turns out it’s the cooling. The water is not cold enough and never will be. I shall sooner or later lose my licences. As I’ve bought all these cows TT that will involve a lot of money. I’m going to write to the War Committee and tell them that, as I am unable to produce clean milk I intend to sell the herd and go in for rearing. Milk is priority no 1 and they have powers to stop me doing that but, as they are also making a drive for clean milk, they will be a trifle in a cleft stick. My new cowman is an argumentative bugger who thinks he knows everything. A year ago he would have got me down completely and ruled the roost because I knew less and was so keen and green and eager. Now I am not bored I just tell him to shut up and give his views when asked, and at the end of the month I shall have to sack him and begin again. People who know everything are always a hopeless proposition.

20/8/43   The milk situation is awful. We have no water owing to the drought and we can’t cool. Regularly it is returned as sour. Luckily we have very few cows in milk at the moment so it’s only nine or ten gallons, but it is a bad situation and lowering to everyone’s morale. And it’s not likely to let up for at least six weeks.

Nanny Gosden
Old Nan in her last years – 1954


Nanny is getting very old, and the older she gets the sweeter she gets. She hasn’t really got enough energy to be mischievous any more. She is really a wonderful person. She fears very deeply that she won’t last till you get back and I’m told Dedie does too. So write to them when you can but not if it excludes writing to me, because my need is even greater.

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A Woman's War