Jack goes to Suez:
19/8/41 As you know, the colonel went to Suez, and now has asked for me to go too. I probably shall, in about a month, when we’ve worked the new colonel in here…. and 2 months later: …It’s satisfactory to get one’s teeth into a job which needs doing. Ismailia was too well buttoned up to be fun.
10/9/41 I have been meaning to tell you about the food situation and how well the farm has worked out. I think the things people miss most are eggs, fruit, jam or things instead of jam, and soon it will be milk as apparently there is going to be a shortage.
Milk is rationed to ½ a pint and some will get dried or condensed instead. Neither milk nor eggs affect us at all. We have just got 40 lbs of our own honey. We have plenty of jam as we had saved some sugar and had our own fruit and tho’ we can’t have fruit all the year we get an awful lot from the windfall time onwards and we have bottled quantities of plums and are about to bottle quantities of damsons. So I think you can feel very pleased about the farm from that point of view and the children look frightfully well and have so far not suffered from the lack of anything vital.
14/9/41 I haven’t written for 2 days because I worked late the last 2 nights. I shall now write a long letter to make up for the two days. To-day is Sunday and by rights we should still be working as the Minister broadcast an appeal to farmers to do so. But the men are tired and one horse lame and the tractors haven’t been looked over or been oiled or greased for a fortnight and it is no use flogging the willing horse so we decided to knock off. We have only about 4 acres of wheat left to get in, we have finished the oats, and we have two fields of beans, one of barley and one rather large field of mixed corn still to get. If rain will hold off we shall finish next week. The whole position is a lot better than it looked at one time. We lost a lot of oats but we got the wheat in in “fairly good nick” and the crops are very heavy. I am really tired. My hands, wrists and arms are stiff and sore. I can hardly knit my fingers are so stiff. But I think I’m fitter than I have ever been in my life.
I posted the book proofs air-mail and I think they should get thro’ the censor because they are obviously what they are.
I have spent a real worker’s Sunday. I was so tired I just wrote letters and read and slept all day and never went out at all except to feed the pigs. I’m reading an excellent book by David Garnett called “War in the Air”. He is intelligence at the Air Ministry so it is fairly informed and tho’ it is largely factual he writes so exceedingly well that he maintains the interest. One interesting point — during the phoney war period, the winter of 1939/40, far from us catching up the Germans in production they were simply forging away from us. He says the figures are not known, but it is thought they built 7 bombers to every one of ours. I suppose this is what our politicians meant when they said time is on our side, and what Halifax meant when he said “We waited till the spring and they have given it to us”. Garnett says “The Chamberlain government had always been in that tragic dilemma which is so frequently revealed after the financial crash of a great company. They could not tell the country how near the brink of disaster it was for fear of precipitating that disaster …. but they never faced the results of those mistakes or admitted them, and had clung to power hoping to remedy them, much as a financier hopes to restore the reserves which have been wasted.” I think this is completely true, but it should not be overlooked that financiers go to prison for this sort of thing and are treated as a menace, whereas politicians as a rule get completely away and continue to menace society not only by their errors of judgment but by their ability to keep secret their errors of judgment.
Then there is Moore Brabazon. (Minister of Aircraft Production 1941-2). He is charged with saying roughly that we are glad to see Russia and Germany weaken each other — Russia being our ally. Churchill gets up and says, whatever M-B said he (Churchill) knows he didn’t mean it as it was interpreted …. and it does harm both to Russia and England to publicise such a thing. Neither of them attempts to explain what he did mean if he didn’t mean what he appears to have meant. And he doesn’t resign or even get ticked off and that’s all there is to it.
15/9/41 We have done another good day’s work, turning beans. They were not stooked so they all had to be turned over and 3 rows turned into 1, so the carts can go through to pick them up. It is hard work but not so heavy and is a change from team work as you can go your own speed. We worked all morning and all afternoon till tea-time and the interesting thing is I’m not at all tired. Also about the garden. We have now been eating nothing but our own veg for about 4 or 5 weeks and look like going on for months.
16/9/41 To-day’s hot news is my biceps. You know I have always had flabby arms with no muscle at all. Well, I happened to feel them this morning, and what should I find but two cricket-balls. And it seems that Hard work gains respect. We got complimented on yesterday’s work. Carling said he was immensely pleased to find the beans all done when he got there and he said Highman, who was ploughing in the next field, had remarked to him how extraordinarily well we had worked. This is high praise from Carling, who always puts us on the dullest jobs and then regards us with a fishy eye.
Anyway we women have managed to make ourselves felt, as we are now no longer given time to do urgent jobs in the garden and one morning we were not even allowed to feed the pigs who went hungry till 11 o’clock. I am not sure that is good farming but we never disobey orders. The policy is to show we are useful before throwing our weight about. But we are never allowed decent tools to do the job with. The men take all the best pitchforks and leave us with the heavy ones and when I remark on it no-one so much as blinks. I have circumvented this by picking out the two best and hiding them. Farm men are rather sweet. Peter once said “you’ll never own anything. It’s always “my pigs, my cows etc”. But what he didn’t know, it’s “my pitchforks” too. Carling often says to me about some tool or other “ I shouldn’t borrow that one. It’s Joe’s.’ Borrow!
17/9/41 This afternoon I was sent off to horse-rake the oats. It was a great test because the rake was in the field and I merely went off ½ a mile from the farm armed with the horse. The question which filled me with sweating apprehension was, could I get him single handed into the shafts? It was really a question of weight. Could I lift them? If I could, useful citizen worth her salt. If I couldn’t, B.F. and dilettante useful for a couple of hours gang work but otherwise useless. I did it all right and raked for 3 hours. It wasn’t really nearly as difficult as I had apprehended but my stock was up when I got back and I had obviously been doubted.
19/9/41 The news seems bad. I think Kiev must either have fallen or else so nearly have done so for it to be only a matter of time. And this must be very serious …. (September 19, 1941 – Nazis take Kiev. September 29, 1941 – Nazis murder 33,771 Jews at Kiev.)
What is the good of listening to the news or doing anything else except pitch fork? Pitchforking is good. I did it all day yesterday until 7.30 at night. To me it seems a miracle that I can, that’s why I keep on telling you about it. When we first started the harvest I couldn’t get the sheaves on top of the cart at all when it was loaded high. Now I do it all the bloody day and at the end I’m not even more than reasonably tired.
22/9/41 To-day we have been picking damsons all day. We have at last been able to borrow some long ladders and we picked 130 lbs to-day and 10 lbs of plums. I give most of them away to all the village people. They are worth about 5d a lb and we must have picked about 500 lbs.
24/9/41 To-day we went to a sale and bought some second-hand pig-wire, which, if I can get a little more, will enable me to go ahead with my pig projects in spite of the bloody old War Committee. We took the children. They are getting to be real farmers. We have a very nice land-girl in the cow-shed and she lets them go in and “help” her with the washing up, and watch her milk. It is really very good.