Social Life

Jack’s work in Tehran was done and he was again posted to Egypt, in Cairo this time. His life there, from his letters, seems to have been a constant social round.

21/4/43   I got your cable from Cairo and also a letter from Tehran written just before leaving.

Victoria Gilmour
Victoria Gilmour (Tortor)

4/5/43   I saw Tortor who is what I believe is technically known as “browned off” (or is that out of date already?).The poor old girl has been in the bloody ATS for five years and she should be given a high policy job at the War Office. But owing a) to jealousy and b) her inability to control her sense of humour and c) that she is as unorthodox as you are, (which can always be highly dangerous) she has been passed over, graded badly on a course for senior officers and told to proceed to Southend. When I got there, she was in the last stages of despair. She said “I’ve been saying all day please God make me humble. He hasn’t yet but I expect He will.” It was too pathetic. She is quite extraordinarily gallant because she has been very ill and could get invalided out any day she wanted to, but she conceived it her duty to stay. And Southend with the ATS! Think of it! She sent you very much love, and so do I.

This farm is sensational — everyone thinks so. But the hedges aren’t laid and it is foully and desolately untidy. The grass is so terrific now. Too terrific. I simply don’t know how to manage it. But I’m dogged with bad luck with the cows. We now have a terrific go of Staphyloccus mastitis which is dreadfully difficult to get rid of and absolutely wrecks the milk yield. So God only knows when we are going to make any money. I mind a lot about money as it is the ultimate test of my success or failure, but probably you wouldn’t mind quite so much, if the farm is slap up.

10/5/43   I’m going to London on Wednesday to lunch with Peggy and then go alone to Noel Coward’s new play in the evening and then back to dinner and to stay with Adrienne and Bill Whitney. Adrienne has made an enormous success in a play called Flare Path in which she is really wonderful. I saw the matinee last week. Oliver is coming to dinner too, so it will be quite a reunion. Then on Thursday I’m going to lunch with Bos and his wife.

Thomas Donaldson
Thomas in his uniform, aged 6

Thomas went to boarding school on Tuesday, and came back for his first weekend on Saturday. When he got off the bus he looked completely changed. He was wearing a tie (of which he was inordinately proud), and his cap and mackintosh, which may account for most of it. But his face seemed thinner and much more grown up. Everyone notice this. I asked him if it was fun, and he said, in a completely grown up way “I don’t hate it but I don’t like it”. Then at lunch I asked him if he had had his honey. He said “Only once, and I haven’t had any sweets at all”. And then he nearly cried, but he didn’t, he controlled it. It was the controlling that got me.

He maintained this completely reasonable attitude throughout the whole weekend until he went to bed last night when he returned to being a baby and boo-oooed like mad and said “I don’t want to go to school, I hate it, I hate it”. I promised him that if he was good and went to school without any fuss I’d give him a breeding pig and then he could pay me for the feeding stuffs after he had sold the litter and start to save to buy a heifer. He went to sleep then and this morning he was perfectly collected and talked a lot about his pig and went off without a murmur, except he said with a grin “I hope we miss the bus”. I think the truth is he really likes it alright and when he has had time to settle down he’ll love it.

He wears this awful tie and is called Donaldson and my dear he is a completely grown up school boy and you haven’t seen him since he was a baby. However my lovely fat one returns to-day with Nanny and that will create a little warmth and happiness. She has maintained a perfectly firm attitude the whole time she has been there, Mrs Saunders says. She has in fact been very happy but has never once admitted it, and she said to Winifred “Mummy had no right to send me here after I got back from Brighton”.

Muffet arrived, enormously fat and very tall and looking very well, and with a much improved speaking voice. She is immensely affectionate and overjoyed to see us. She had brought us all presents and for herself some bath salts and half a bottle of very nasty scent. She has now scented up the bathroom till it smells like an old brothel. She refers to Webb as “my Webb” and she tells me the garden at the Wood House is very nice indeed.

Bell box in The Wood House
Bell box in the kitchen of The Wood House


I have some memories of this trip, and it was my only visit to the Wood House at a conscious age (5) until I saw it again in 2015. So, a gap of over 70 years during which time it had in my mind the status of a mythical, magical place often referred to with love by my parents. All I really remembered from the visit was that the lavatories were dirty inside as they so often are in empty houses, having been used by some passerby and not cleaned. I was astonished when I saw it for real last year (2015), and particularly amazed by the impression of jeunesse d’oree it gave me about the pre-war life of my parents. We always lived in small farm houses without things like dining rooms. We were always pressed for cash, while this seemed palatial. In the kitchen there was a box with a list of bells to rooms, with day nursery, night nursery, maid’s bedroom and finally, Mrs D’s bedroom. That was my parents’ bedroom, still on the list 80 years after the house was built. It drove home the understanding of the complete change in life-style that the war and my mother’s decision to farm had made for them.

PS Nanny says Rose stood up in the railway carriage and with the rather extreme gestures both our children use, addressed her as follows:-

“The Germans will be beaten in December. The Japs will still go on but that won’t matter to us and my Daddy will come home”. Nanny says one RAF officer laughed so much he nearly fell out of his seat.

18/5/43   Mary Dunn has been here and I said to her something about not wanting to see anyone. She said she thought it was from lack of confidence. She said “I saw all sorts of people I knew in London. In the old days I would have bounced up to them and slapped them on the back even tho’ I didn’t know them well. But I just turned my head and pretended not to see them. “ Now if that is what it does to Mary please imagine what it does to me. The isolated life plays hell with your nerves, imagination and character.

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A Woman's War