Beginning to Take Control of the Farm

14/3/42   Rather an exciting post — a letter from Jesper from Suez. It is an absolutely charming letter written as if he knew me and really sweet about you and saying you were going to Tobruk because Hewer said you were the only officer who could fill the bill and he knew Hewer was right because that was why he had got you to Suez, and telling me not to worry and saying all the arguments for thinking Suez was really much more dangerous .. Don’t you think it was sweet? I was so pleased because it gave me a feeling of your being with real people who love you and appreciate you as our friends do and not just vaguely “with the Army” which to me never represents anything except a string of names. So I feel much cosier about you.

We seem from the news, now going on, to have got very much the worst in the naval battle with the Japs off Java. I’d better stop now and listen.
The Battle of the Java Sea was a decisive[4] naval battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II.   Battle of the Java Sea   27 Feb 1942

18/3/42   Your new job sounds quite fun and hard work and you will be happy for a bit.

19/3/42   I got a wheat cheque this morning and have spent the whole day paying bills. The children are ill again, this time with a tummy upset. I suppose you’ve read Lord Halifax’s speech? I had a faint flicker of apprehension as a result of his reference to the Middle East. I wouldn’t be surprised if your present position turns out to be much more frightening than Tobruk.

David Margesson, minister of War 1942,
David Margesson, Jack’s cousin and conservative politician

I spoke to Mary the other day. She said that David (Margesson) was awfully upset and felt he had been badly let down by his boss who congratulated him personally on some specific job one day and wrote a formal letter asking for his resignation two days later. The odd thing is that he didn’t seem to have any idea that he has been for years one of the best hated politicians and seemed to think only his efficiency was called into account.

I hear on all sides our shipping position is formidable and we lose such a lot as a result of their having to travel in rough seas to avoid the enemy in calm. People say we can’t start a second front because we haven’t got enough ships to get the soldiers there, much less supply them. But who knows?

20/3/42   To-day’s news is a blood row with Carling. When I had my long talk with him I told him I wanted to learn to drive the tractor etc and I did say I’d let him know when the children were better and I was ready to start milking. This morning it was a lovely warm day and as I came up from feeding the pigs I saw Highman starting to sow nitro-chalk on the 8 acre field which was the first one we put down to grass. So I thought Good Idea — I’ll have a go, and I walked over to him and said “Highman, I’ll come with you and you can teach me to drive it”. He said OK but it would take him about a quarter of an hour to fix the drill. So I said I’d go up to the house and see Carling and come back.

Now I knew Carling would be furious. I can’t tell you why and no-one believes me because it is so unreasonable but he definitely doesn’t want me to do things and also he hates me having anything to do with the men. Sure enough, he looked as black as hell when I told him and put up a couple of reasons why I had better not. I took very little notice and said his reasons weren’t very important, and then had a talk with Mrs Carling. As I left the house he followed me. He said “About this tractoring — are you really going now?” I said “Yes.” He said absolutely definitely “You can’t do that” (on my oath, because he later denied it). I said “Just what do you mean?” He said “Well, you said you’d let me know when you wanted to go. I was going to start you on drag-harrowing”. I said “Well, what difference does it make?” He said “Well, you’ve got two drills on the back and it would be a mess-up if you were to turn them over”. I said “There are two answers to that. One is, I won’t. The other is they are my drills”. And walked off and left him.

farming world war II, woman driving tractor
Frankie driving the tractor

Then I went on the tractor and discovered what several people have told me, that there isn’t anything to learn. If you can drive a car you can drive a tractor, the only difference being that a tractor is far easier, as you don’t change the gears and it has a wonderful lock. This made me absolutely boiling over with Carling. If there had really been any difficulty or danger one could have found some reason for believing it wasn’t just ordinary spite but as it was as easy as falling off a log and no-one but a half-wit could possibly come to harm (mind you with Highman on it as well) there was no excuse at all.

I boiled and boiled and boiled all morning. My temper was added to by thinking of all the impertinences and humiliations I have swallowed from him in the last eighteen months, and also that this episode proved conclusively that he had been deliberate every time.

Caterpillar tractor used for ploughing. Frances Donaldson taking control
Caterpillar tractor pulling a plough, not harrows

So after lunch I went down to the farm and I drew a long breath and then made no attempt to keep or recover my temper for ten minutes. I told him just exactly where he got off in about six different ways. (I enjoyed it like mad because after the first sentence I realised he was going to take it — I quite see how Hitler has got the way he has) and then I asked him to tell me one good reason why I should ask permission before driving my own tractor with my own drills behind it on my own farm. He took the line a) that he hadn’t said it and b) that he hadn’t meant it. So I ended up by saying “All right, we’ll leave it at that but you be a bloody sight more careful how you talk to me in the future.”

We then spent an amicable half hour looking at the cows.

The really wonderful part of the story is this. I then, in order to show my independence, went off and had another go at the tractor, and, thro sheer carelessness, I did put the drills in the hedge. Luckily Highman got them out without damage. I said to him as a joke “I’m glad you got them out because I wouldn’t have liked to go and tell Carling what I’d done”. Highman roared with laughter and said “Well, you needn’t worry. He always does it with the caterpillar. You can always tell where he’s been by looking at the hedges”. Rather a good end to an absolutely wonderful day.

The extraordinary thing is, one spends years trying to be nice to people and trying to consider their prejudices and so on (only partly out of niceness, partly out of fear) and they are absolutely bloody to you and do everything they can to spoil your fun. And then one really good crack of the whip and they rush to heel and behave like human beings for the first time. In future I’m going to be tough …. I never had any real happiness over the children till I got rid of the nanny (and from that day onwards I have never been difficult or uneasy or hysterical about them) and I shall never have any fun out of farming till I do it myself. And I’m sick and tired of being fretted and thwarted and humiliated by people I’m employing and I’m never going to be again. I wonder!!!……

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A Woman's War