The book, farming, war, children....

Life on the farm continued. Frankie was still living in a house in the village. Her inability to take control of the farm was somewhat compensated for by the writing activities – the book, Approach to Farming, was going well and had been accepted. But her frustration and irritation were only just below the surface. She would rather have been fully involved, without time for expeditions into social life although these were a pleasure and at times a relief from the hard work.

19/5/41   I am worried I may have done something to my inside threshing. I feel slack and weak. I think threshing is probably too hard for me and it is a mistake to do it. As a matter of fact I am just beginning to get warmed up to the idea of doing some more to Approach to Farming and I really have the urge to get at it. But it’s very difficult here. Children and maids and governesses and farm people pop in and out all the time and have no respect for a budding authoress.

Sacheverell Sitwell, was an English writer, best known as an art critic, music critic and writer on architecture, brother of Osbert and Edith.

Sacheverel Sitwell
Sacheverel Sitwell, writer and music critic

24/5/41   To-day I was having tea when Peggy appeared with Sachie Sitwell. It was a bit tough on me. I had oiled my hair this morning and I had not washed after feeding the pigs and I had no make-up on my face. I took it as well as I could. Sachie asked me to be sure to say he had asked after you and sent his love. They had heard about Approach to Farming  from Mary and he asked what publisher? I said with some pride “Faber’s”. That is one of the nice things about it. Nearly all their books are of a certain class.

I must tell you in detail how I feel about it because it is really rather sweet. I am so thrilled about it that I don’t go to sleep when I go to bed and I wake up thinking about it. I am also completely incredulous and also rather nervous. I don’t like anything I have written since I started the alterations and I am terrified that I haven’t dealt skilfully enough with personal matters such as reference to you.

Frederick LOnsdale
Frankie’s father, playwright Frederick Lonsdale


26/5/ I am in a stew about the book — a)whether I can finish it, b)whether I should, c)whether it will shame me forever if it is, d) whether you will like it, e)whether Leonora will, f)whether Dick really does, g)whether anyone will when I have fiddled it about. I now understand for the first time why Daddy always goes on like a maniac about his plays. God blast it all.

28/5/41   I feel better about the book. The truth is I was trying to lengthen it by spinning out one or two episodes which don’ really interest me. Now I have scrapped the attempt and torn it all up and decided only to write what I enjoy writing. The result is I have got back into the better part of the book and am now rather pleased with myself again.

31/5/41   It is Thomas’ birthday to-morrow and he will get the bicycle. He knows about it and is wildly excited.

1/6/41  Crete, I take it, is finished. (June 1, 1941,Crete, the last Allied stronghold in Greece, is captured by German forces at high cost to both sides)I never did see how it could be more than a delaying action but then I never can see how anything ever will be. I suppose Egypt will be the next and then I shall have some horrible months.

I had a letter from Mr Stewart in which he said that he has seen no farm in either of the two counties which looked as good as ours. Rather extraordinary, isn’t it? I am a bad letter-writer at the moment, but the book will be finished in a day or two and then I will go back to my normal habits.

2/6/41   Got your cable re book and one for Thomas. He was frightfully pleased. Rose has a new dress on to-day. When she took it off she said “There’s a hole in my dress”. We all looked appropriately shocked and surprised and she pointed to the arm-hole. I think she thought it up herself.

Oddly I believe after all T soon will ride the bicycle. He has been practising all day with the other children and he swears he can go a little way by himself and they all back up this assertion. You would love to hear them talk about the other children in the village. There are so many of them and they know them all by name and always assume everyone else does too.

I have definitely finished the book. I can’t do another stroke.

6/6/41   I wish I could give you a picture of the children’s lives. On the road outside the house there will be anything up to 30 children and 2 of these will be ours.

8/6/41   Yesterday I spent with Peggy. I really enjoyed it. It was a lovely day. We rode in the morning and sat about all the afternoon. After all, I think it is a good thing to have some rich. It is so nice to have iced drinks and well served food and the horses saddled and bridled and luxurious garden chairs just by way of a change from ordinary life. I am all for their existing just for us to take holidays in their houses.

She was very depressed about the war. We discussed it and came to the conclusion that even to discuss it was all vanity of vanities. We have now got to the position where we have just got to go on. No talk of how we are doing or whether our leaders are any good serves any purpose. We can’t alter anything but on the other hand there is no possibility of our morale being affected by bad news because the thing is too big for that. We have just got to hope that our leaders are better than they sometimes appear to be and keep on doing whatever we happen to be doing. One thing I am certain of is that the presentation of the news is bad. Everyone here is getting so utterly bored with being told that there are no airfields in Crete and the next that the Germans have got control of the airfields in Crete.

small boy on a bike
Thomas with his first bike, aged 5


10/6/41 The bike is an uproarious success. He can not only ride it but do almost anything he likes with it. He is never off it now and thinks of nothing else. This afternoon he rode down to the post office with me also on a bike. We passed all the children coming back from school and T kept up a running commentary. “Get out of the way, can’t stop. Hello Baden — that’s Baden, Mummy, the one with the gun. Hello Jim. Out of my way. Hello Michael — that boy’s called Michael, Mummy,” and so on all the way there. He’s not a baby any more — he’s a little boy.

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A Woman's War