Rumours and criticisms: the target of malice

Most of the professional men and farmers who knew Frankie  both liked and respected her, but she was unusual in her time and not surprisingly, the target of malice for some. She was straying into what was largely a man’s preserve and making waves which were bound to annoy. It is perhaps surprising that she did not have more opposition.

Frances Donaldson in World War Two3/7/42 Two rather depressing things. Most farms were surveyed about eighteen months ago, but for some reason (incompetence) this one hasn’t been done yet. Pattison came here a few nights ago and he asked me whether I thought anyone could possibly say the farm had gone down since I had it. I said no, quite definitely not. There were a lot of things I wasn’t sure about, such as the cows, but I was absolutely sure of that. Then he asked if I was still absolutely determined on getting rid of Carling as he thought it might lead to trouble. So I said “Come on, what is all this?” He said there had been a meeting of the local War Committee at which someone had said G.H. was going down and was not what it was when Plant had it.
waragposterThis last remark is like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party because Plant didn’t farm it at all. He merely sold hay off it. It was Field and Jones who began the ploughing and slagged it and so on. P hadn’t been at the meeting, but he was told about it afterwards and he was obviously a bit worried because he thought they would be out to survey it within the next fortnight and would I be sure to let him know when they had been so that he could make a point of attending the next meeting.
The whole thing is mysterious, because no single member of the Committee except Gordon Davis, who is the district officer and very nice and heavily on our side and always says he thinks the farm is wonderful, has seen it since I have been here. So that, whoever started this have done so without seeing the farm.
P came right round the farm that evening and examined every field. I asked him what he thought and he said it was obviously all rot but he still seemed a trifle worried. I said “I’ve always taken it for granted it would be graded A. What do you think?” He said “B plus”. I said “But why?” He said if he was doing it he would grade it A but he didn’t believe they would because of four fields.

overgrazed grass. The target of malice
Grass which has been over-grazed and in is bad condition

One is a really good ley which has kept the dairy cows for nearly the whole of the summer and on which they went up to twenty gallons. But it hasn’t rained for months and it’s dry and burnt up and nothing looks so awful to an uninformed eye as a burnt up ley. The next field is the root field. It is rather a mess. Then there is a wheat field, which was very badly eaten by wireworm in the spring. The fourth field is also wheat, and it is simply an only moderately good crop.
As against this we have two fields of beans which Clyde Higgs says are the best he’s ever seen, three first class wheat crops, a good crop of winter oats, a very fair crop of spring oats, some S 23 for seed looking well and some first class sugar beet. Also some very good and extremely useful leys.
The thing that gets me down is not what was said at the War Committee because I know they are nothing but a lot of sour second rate gossips (they hate Clyde Higgs and one of the remarks that was made was that I was never off the telephone to him — I’ve spoken to him three times in my life on the telephone), but the fact that Pattison seemed to be taking the whole thing seriously. He seemed to think it was a reason for re-considering the Carling decision, and he seemed to think they could make my life a hell if they wanted to. I said they could go to hell until such time the farm was so badly farmed that they were able to dispossess me. But I feel there may be something more in it than he has told me and I feel they are all coming out to look for crabs — and there isn’t a farm in England where you can’t find crabs if you want to, and I feel that, for some reason I don’t know, they have always had it in for me if they could get a chance. They are all really third rate middle class little bores and those people always hate their betters when they meet them, and especially if they don’t meet them but only hear about them.
I think I ought to explain that the War Committee have complete powers to do anything they like. But as we are not yet a completely fascist state they obviously have not power to abuse their power. If you are not doing very well, they have power to tell you what to do and to force you to do it, and if you are doing badly they can dispossess you. But unless and until you are doing badly they have no power that I know of to interfere with the running of the farm. And that’s why I simply can’t understand why P is worried or why he thinks it is any damn business of theirs whether I or anyone else sacks or keeps their bailiff until they prove that they can’t manage without one. But it may be nothing.

farmers weekly logo 2013 had an article on the subject:

quote: ” The war ag committees made several such interventions. These committees were run by progressive farmers with tough principles. They were empowered by the Ministry to take “firm measures against the recalcitrant or hopelessly inefficient” and were permitted to take “all necessary measures to secure that land [was] cultivated to the best advantage”. There was no third party to whom appeals could be taken.

The most extreme case seems to have been in Hampshire where the local war ag committee insisted that Raymond Walden, a 65-year-old bachelor farmer, should plough up 30 acres of grassland or face eviction. He refused and resisted the inevitable attempt to evict him. Armed police were sent in to remove him and Walden was shot in the head and killed.”

See also a detailed review of the  County War Agricultural Executive Committees in the Second World War, which mentions Frances Donaldson’s book Four Years harvest: The report comments that “The only minor blemish on the achievements was the possibility that wartime controls may have adversely affected a number of farmers, in particular those who were evicted from their holdings.”

In the spring when I first thought of getting rid of Carling the news fairly whistled round Warwickshire and everyone discussed it and everyone except Clyde Higgs thought I was mad and would be broken and bust within a year. It may simply be that Pattison thinks if I do it now it will cause endless gossip again and may cause the War Committee to keep an eye on me. But, from my point of view, if he and William Davis will refrain from repeating all the more unpleasant bits to me, I shan’t give a damn what they say and if I’m going to do badly the War Committee may as well find it out as anyone else. And as Pattison is to be my adviser in chief, it is up to him to see I don’t do badly. But it depresses me and makes me feel persecuted.
6/7/42 I spent the week-end with the Hudsons, during which I bought three really good heifers at such fantastic prices I don’t think I shall ever be able to tell you what I paid.
Anyway, I was thinking about it to-day, and I thought I never would have bought them if I’d thought they were going to be managed by Carling and Hall. They simply aren’t conscientious enough, either of them. I’ll never do any good till I get rid of them both, and I couldn’t get rid of one without the other. All very satisfactory as I’m going to anyway.

war agricultural committee poster WWII
Poster from the ‘War AG’ for farmers

9/7/42 This has been a big day. Pattison asked if I was really anxious in wanting to get rid of Carling because the War Committee wanted a bailiff for their demonstration farm. This morning Carling said to me that both he and Mrs Carling knew that I intended to move into the house in the autumn. I said the War Committee had asked whether or not it was true that he was leaving, and that I had been unable to stand in his way over such a good job, as his job with me was by no means secure as I wanted the house and had in any case intended to ask him to look for a job in the autumn. But I said he was quite safe with me as he could stay until he found the job which he wanted, providing he gave me long notice when he found it and provided he looked after my interests and did what he could not to upset the men and so on. He was very nice and so was I.

I wrote to you last week about the War Committee crabbing the farm. I think that has blown over. Two of them came over late one night when I was in bed and Carling took them round. They said the beans and the sugar beet were the best they had seen anywhere and the corn very nice and they went away saying they were pleased with the farm. Also, Clyde Higgs has issued a proclamation saying we have some wonderful crops. Then Pattison told Hughes, the chairman of the War Committee , that, if it had gone down since I had it, it must have been one of the show places of the Midlands before I had it.
Yesterday, after Mr Stewart had been right round I said “Do you think the farm looks reasonably well?” He said “Reasonably isn’t the right word.” I said “How would you grade it?” He said “Well, if there is such a thing as a grade A farm this must be one.” So I think my enemies are scotched. I think they are enemies. It isn’t apparently the main Committee who have got it in for me. It is the Stratford District Branch. They are all pooping little men and apparently it is A to F which has annoyed them. They think I think I know (so I do). Anyway they seem to have overstepped themselves this time because, if they wanted to say the farm was going down, they would have done better to take a passing look at it first.
The farm keeps me going and I feel that if you like your new job that will keep you going. I wish I knew where you are and if you are happy and whether you are a colonel. I think it is a most wonderful thing that you weren’t in Tobruk and now you aren’t in Egypt. I have really started to believe in our luck again, for the first time since you went to France …
Just got your letter from new job. (?Tehran?) Still a major! I’ve been too previous!
11/7/42 I went to my accountant and finished up the book. The profit is really £406, but this includes eggs milk and butter etc supplied to the house. On this Carling gets £20.6/-. I have decided to divide between the men the same again. I have written out a cheque for each of them. The largest is 6.10/- which goes to Highman and the smallest to Cyril Wheeldon who only works part time. In addition, I’m giving £5 to Mrs Carling because her poultry unit performed the phenomenal feat of making £299 gross and £185 net profit. I am awfully looking forward to giving the men their cheques which I shall do on Monday. It will be a surprise and I do hope they will be pleased.

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A Woman's War