The Threshing season, children and the Russians

26/3/43   I’ve had rather a beautiful day, tho’ as I am exhausted and both my eyes are entirely enclosed with dust, it wouldn’t be many people’s idea of pleasure. I’ve been feeding the drum for two solid days and halfway thro’ the first I got the hang of it. The man feeding the drum is the most important because he sets the pace for those behind, feeding him, and for those in front of him dealing with straw and sacks. It has always been done here by Oakley the deaf and dumb, who is quite incredibly bad and our threshing standards are about half as good as they ought to be. Since Carling left I have tried every possible combination to get the drum better fed, but never got it any faster and always produced endless rows with Oakley.

Threshing Machine
A threshing machine being fed with sheaves from the left

Then I suddenly realised that, if you made practically no effort but let the suction do the work and only kept it going smoothly, so the drum didn’t get bunged and the suction cease to work, you went at double the pace. I can now truthfully say that, tho’ I’m not near the class of those who do it well, I could give every man on this farm a ten sack start and eat him. So I am immoderately proud of myself. Also it is the vantage point for giving black looks to people who are not working hard and therefore the right place for the boss.

Of course I am a fearful prefect by nature, and I remind myself of when I was at school. Sheila is a tremendously hard worker, and I am very apt to keep changing her to any place which is holding us up, thereby speeding it up and administering an indirect reproof to whoever she changes with. Whenever I do it, I think of myself when, as an intolerant, pompous and humourless captain of games, I used to say to whoever was my Sheila in a furious voice, “Change with so and so and see if you can put some guts into the left wing”. It’s very bad for my character and gives me too much sense of leadership and power of the wrong, black-look kind.

I ought really to stop now, as I must write to Miss Muffet. Have I ever told you that we all of us alternate between calling Rose Rose and Muffet? Nora called her it when she first came and it has stuck. Thomas often calls her that and I do too. She is rather a little Miss Muffet tho’ she wouldn’t run away from a spider or any other Goddamned insect. She has sent me some primroses and violets from Mrs Saunders, and when she was at Brighton she was very hurt because I forgot to write to her. By the way, write to Thomas. He wrote you a long letter which I sent by airmail, which will probably take ages to get there, but he can’t understand why you don’t answer by return of post. In bed just now, he was singing a song about “Farmer Donaldson had some pigs”. I passed and called out “Who is Farmer Donaldson” “You, of course”. It is fame, isn’t it?

I remember sending flowers. I think we often did it when away from home, or maybe it is just one vivid memory. We wrapped the stalks in damp cottonwool and newspaper and then made it into a normal parcel and sent them by post. Even though the post was probably quicker in those days, I cannot believe that they arrived in very good condition.

My mother always thought I was brave but actually I am a complete coward, and, in particular, phobic about spiders. Maybe I put on a good act, or maybe I was braver in those days. We actually loved Nora, and used to go to see her and Mrs Higley, who lived in the Eighteens (the 18 cottages just opposite the house that we lived in in the village before we moved up to the farm. I remember the lavatory – a wooden board with a hole in it ‘out the back’; and also their loving kindness.

Nora, looked after Frances Donaldson's children
Nora looked after us

27/3/43   Nora is really a beastly character and she is very often vile to Thomas in the sort of viciously sadistic way grown ups so often get away with. Thomas hates porridge, and so Nora, if she were allowed to, would stuff it down his throat every day. But as we have plenty of cereals which are just as good for him I won’t allow it. This morning T said “Am I going to have cereals?” “No” said Nora in a firm voice, “Porridge this morning. T immediately made face like crying which is, of course, naughty of him.




Thomas and Rose Donaldson sitting at the dining room table
Thomas and Rose sitting at the dining room table

“Why” I asked, in an even firmer voice, “Are we out of cereals?” “No” said Nora, “it was only a joke. But he can’t take a joke. Look at him”. I said that if it was a joke it was a poor one and had quite escaped me as well as Thomas. Later, Sheila came in and Nora was rude to her so, with that, I bawled her out flat. So now we shall have sweet temper for a bit.

But this business with Thomas makes me furious. It is not absolutely constant but is very frequent, and is one of the reasons I find it necessary to send him to board at school during the week next term. She doesn’t do it with Rose, and this is supposed to be because Rose is her favourite. The real reason is that Rose is much less vulnerable and therefore less sport. However, Nora gets as good as she gives from me and has been snivelling all day so perhaps that will teach her to leave him alone for a bit. He is awfully sweet.

He went down to the threshing to help catch the rats at the bottom of the rick. I wasn’t there but they said, in spite of being very frightened, he stood his ground and walloped the rats when they appeared. He said to me, “Mummy, Bubbles (the pup) has been very brave. She chased a rat. I think you ought to share her with me, as I taught her to catch mice”. He always pronounces “very” as “vurry”. Now I am listening to Yehudi Menuhin’s concert.

30/3/43   I had a letter explaining how you felt about Rose which I understand and agree with. (This was anxiety about air raids on Brighton, where nanny lived). I don’t think I would have done it if Nanny herself hadn’t suggested it. Anni thought you probably didn’t feel strongly about it so I sent the wire, since when I didn’t have a moment’s peace and spent the whole time composing what I was going to say to you if Rose was killed. So I sent for her and I’m glad I did. As Mrs Saunders (neighbour in Kent) then wrote and invited them, it all solved itself quite easily and they went to Shipbourne.

1/4/43   Two days threshing in a very high wind has reduced me to a pulp. The awful thing is we shall have to go on again to-morrow. The awful thing about farming is that one so quickly gets used to thing. I no longer think it’s any fun at all to feed the drum. Actually, threshing is hell. All country women know they must treat their men carefully when they come in after a day’s threshing, so you can imagine what it does to us. With a wind it is particularly vile and so dirty. I had to wear goggles to protect my eyes and where my clothes ended there is a high water mark of absolute black. After the war I’m going to be a lady farmer and ride round on a cob saying “How’s it going, Highman?”

The women of England aren’t starred enough, at least only as a force like the ATS. One hears so much about the Russian women but I bet they don’t work any harder than most of the girls on this farm or in a factory. Only, English girls do it without a philosophy and only if they are driven and with an awful lot of chatter and giggling so nobody notices much.

Jack Donaldson and Russian soldier
Jack with Russian military

7/4/43   You are in Picture Post this week. Leonora told me on the telephone but I haven’t seen it yet.








Leonora Cazalet, Wodehouse
Leonora Cazalet, Frankie’s greatest friend

Then I got a card from Elizabeth Denby and then a letter from Mrs Saunders saying Rose had seen it and had jumped up and down saying “That’s my Daddy, that’s my Daddy”. She knows quite well what you look like from constant practice in spotting you in photographs. She’s with Leonora for a day or two till they join Peter at Thetford. Leonora put her on the telephone and, heavily prompted by Leonora, she said “I’m going to stay up till midnight to-night, and what are you going to do about that?”

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A Woman's War