Jack returns to England with the Royal Engineers sometime soon after Dunkirk. He is posted to Darlington in Yorkshire. One of their friends, Haschi, later Professor Wasserman at UCL, an Austrian Jew who had come to England to escape the Nazis, was interned. His wife, Anni, is a close friend often mentioned in the letters. August 1940 war news was a waiting game.
30/6/40 Manor Guest House Luddington. What about my coming to Darlington?
Haschi has been interned, & Anni is madly upset. There is nothing in the world one can do about it & that makes it impossible to feel much about it.
29/7/40 We cut the oats today. I wish you were here. It is really such fun. It was a good crop & I cut my arms to ribbons sticking it up into stooks. It is awful because there is always a thistle or something in every bundle as well as the oats.
It is more satisfactory & gives you a greater pride in possession than anything else in the world. You would really love it. A wonderful old boy of 70 who was a friend of the late owner’s turned up (at my invitation) to shoot rabbits and foxes (don’t say this to any hunting friends you may have because unless they have heard there is a war on it will put you outside the pale) which live in the middle. As you cut round the edges they go nearer to the middle & then at the end they have to make a dash for it. He was simply heavenly & the sort of old man who surreptitiously produces bottles of beer from all over his person.
He shot Thomas (aged 4). He did really. At least a bullet richoted off a stone on to Thomas’ leg & bruised & cut it. Thomas roared like a bull & I tore across the field. One of the men called Newlands must have torn across behind me though I didn’t see him.
There was a terrific sensation with everyone apologising & assuring each other it was quite all right. I suddenly noticed that T. had stopped crying & had disappeared. The man Newlands had quite quietly taken him by the hand & led him off to see the dead fox. Thomas was mad with excitement & saying “You see Mummy. Wasn’t it a good think. Now he’ll never be able to eat our chickens!” It was one of the kindliest & most instinctively clever things I have ever seen done & Newlands stays for life.
Altogether it was great fun & I ended the day by picking out with Jones six fat bullocks which will go to market tomorrow & bring us something near £200. I am pleased with life again & convinced that farming is the thing.
I will be up to see you very soon now & will bring the tennis racquets.
P.S. Still no news from the buggering War Committee (Trying to make her plough up more grassland which she needs for cattle)
14/8/40 We had quite a reasonable air raid last night. I heard some aeroplanes bang overhead. I was just thinking to myself “I’ll bet any money those are Germans” because they sounded absolutely different from anything I had heard and with that a couple of guns went off. They couldn’t have been many miles away and they sounded about half a mile away. I have had some wooden panels made for the upstairs windows because there is no other way of protecting the children from glass. I got up and tried to fit them up but it was absolutely impossible in the dark.
I got the children up and took them down to the hall which is the only place which has no glass. We were there for about one and a half hours and during this time three more lots went bang over us and each time a few minutes later one could hear the guns and bombs but the near one never went off again. After this I shall have to put the wooden panels up every night so that we can stay in our beds.
Later: The raid has increased in dimensions hourly and we are all agog. Apparently what I described in this morning’s letter as an anti aircraft gun which was very near wasn’t a gun at all but eleven bombs. Casualties here consisted of 7 cattle there and one sheepdog at Gypsy Hall Farm, Wilmcote. She jumped over the half door of the stable and hung herself. Apparently she was always terrified of thunder. Mrs Jones says the farmhouse shook to its foundations.
Birmingham really got it I think. The telephone exchange man told me it was pretty bad and the story that has percolated to us is that they got the Nuffield factory and killed eleven men and injured fifty. Anyway we none of us can talk of anything else. I wasn’t a bit frightened then but if I had known the noise was bombs I think I might have been and I rather hope they aren’t going to give us a nightly visit.
Thomas was thrilled by the raid. I always imagined one would spend the time in an air raid distracting their attention and making up all sorts of reasons for the noise etc. Instead of which I just said we were going downstairs because the Germans had come over to bomb us and it wasn’t safe upstairs until we had got the wooden shutters up.
They were both thrilled and we spent an hour and a half giving our views on how many German bombers had been brought down now. Thomas always thinks they have all been brought down. Tonight he inspected the wooden things going up and insisted on seeing them up in my room as well as in his so that we should all be safe.
I have just finished listening to Anthony Eden who I thought for his class was not bad. But it is a lowish class. Outside Churchill they seem to be tiny little men. Maybe they’re just bad speakers.