Wartime Morality. Children problems

1/7/43   I went to a ploughing demonstration last night where there were some of the more intelligent farmers. One of them said “Mrs Donaldson, what do you do about your correspondence?” I said “I reserve a room specially to keep it in”. This went quite well, so I said “As a matter of fact I’ve found a new method. When I get a difficult one from the War Committee or the Income Tax I don’t even try to answer it, and then, after a bit, I begin to get letters asking for an answer. I wait till I’ve had about three of these and then I write and say “I cannot trace your letter of December 5th. If you will let me know what it was about I will deal with it”. This usually finishes the matter because they haven’t any files or records either”. About three of the others had got on to that one, too, and said they did it regularly. It shows you what it is all coming to.

6/7/43   We seem to have been carrying hay forever. Like many other great agricultural secrets the moment when hay is fit seems to me to be pretty easy to determine. I’ve been dreading hay for eight months because I knew nothing about it whatever, Carling having been very secretive about it and I thought I wouldn’t know what to do. The first two fields Pat had to come racing round to advise but now at the end of the three weeks I should be prepared to back my judgment against anyone around here except Pat.

I’m very worried about Thomas. When he comes home at weekends he is so odious that no words can describe it. He starts off when he gets out of the car adopting a boxer’s attitude and proceeds to punch the nearest child at intervals of ten minutes through the day. If by chance they punch him back, which Rose immediately does, he dissolves into tears. He is rude and rough in manners and is thoroughly disliked by every one except me. I think he is suffering from having had to behave like that at school to keep up with the others, from expecting us to be impressed and from the difficulty of readjusting, both ways from and to school. I’m going to write to the headmaster, saying it is not a complaint but a comment, and I want his views.

The letters show Frankie’s gradually deteriorating relationship with Thomas. I remember his being horrible to me when he got home from school and I had not yet achieved the status of going to school. I never forgave him although we got on better when more mature. It was also one of the few sad elements of our family life, that he was uneasy in his relationships especially with our mother. She had adored him as a small child and felt that his difficult behaviour was one of the consequences of war, and the lack of a father figure. My father’s calm temperament would certainly have helped and she was so stressed and overworked on the farm that she was perhaps a little impatient with him. Their temperaments were very different.

8/7/43   Last Sunday the children wanted me to take them bathing, and I wouldn’t, because I wanted to try a cob in the horse rake. It seemed to me important at the time but I thought afterwards that it was really awful the way I sacrifice everything to the farm. Because it’s just which you think the more important, to try the cob or to take the children, and obviously I thought the cob.

I’ve written to Nelson, the headmaster, telling him about Thomas’ behaviour at weekends and asking him to let me know how he got on at school and what they thought of him etc. I’ll let you know what he says in reply.

10/7/43   I got a cable this morning which arrived with the first news of our latest venture, which merely said you were alright. (July 9 An invasion of Sicily begins) As soon as things are a little more obvious perhaps you will be able to let me know a little more about your job.

Jack wrote:

Jack Donaldson in World War IIHQ Movement Control 7N  Eighth Army       10/7/43

The news is out on the wireless this morning, so you now know as much as I do. I’m sitting in Frank’s tent, setting off for the party in about ½ hour. Nice to be seen off by Frank (Margesson).

17/7/43   This is the first letter from Europe — quite an occasion. I won’t say where I am but if you don’t know you must be stupider even than the censors. I got into a ship the night before the assault, got out to hear the news of the assault the first day, left that night, arrived the following day, stayed on board 24 hours and finally disembarked over a beach on the third day. It was wonderful steaming into sight of land on the morning of the second day, and seeing ships and craft and everyone unloading like mad, pouring an army into Europe. And all as quiet and peaceful as a Sunday morning at Runton. There were interruptions later on, of course, and before, but not at that particular moment, and it was quite an emotional experience. The first two days after landing were very exciting, rushing round trying to get railways and things going.

Jack wrote a month later when ‘the party’ as he referred to war events, battles etc, was over:

4/8/43    I can now tell you something of the past bit of history. The two months in Cairo were hell, as they were planning and planning and making preparations for the party, while conditions kept changing so that every arrangement had to be amended and amended again. The planning was done in England, N. Africa and Cairo, which made it more difficult. It was a dreadfully trying and tiring job. But great fun to see it actually happen. It was a triumphant and unqualified success, even tho’ there wasn’t much opposition.

18/8/43    I see now from orders I’m allowed to tell you I’m in Sicily, and came here from Malta. We came over from Malta in a very fast minelayer, and we picked up the crew of a Flying Fortress on the way, and were at the same time attacked, very briefly, by a Boche plane. Quite exciting for about four minutes, then over — no more thrills. The concentration of the invasion fleet was one of the most extraordinary feats of naval warfare. We saw most of the ships, coming from our side, on the way out, and they met the others coming from elsewhere perfectly to time, drew up in position for assault and then assaulted all in some unbelievable way without the Boche knowing what it was all about. And the final assault achieved surprise, a thing no-one had thought possible. I left Malta the day after the assault, but hung about here for twenty four hours before we could get off. It was all fairly exciting, and extremely successful. I feel things are on the move all the world over.

The invasion of Sicily was made a surprise to the Germans by the Operation Mincemeat plan. This was later fictionalised by Duff Cooper and written up by both Ewen Montagu (The Man Who Never Was) and Ben Macintyre (Operation Mincemeat)

Frankie continued:

Frankie at Chadshunt
Frankie at Chadshunt where Peggy Dunne lived

Frances Donaldson in World War Two16/7/43    I’m lying in bed at Nancy Hare’s. For the first time since the war I’m formally taking a week’s holiday. I’d got to the point of staleness and fatigue where I really had no interest left in anything. As I left I got two letters, one from Bos and one from Malcolm Messer and Mary Day, who have just married each other, both saying they wanted to see me. Yesterday I had lunch with Peter Chance (more later) and last night I went to Love for Love, a Congreve comedy very bawdy and very good, with John Gielgud, Yvonne Arnaud, Leon Quartemaine, Leslie Banks and lots of others, settings by Rex Whistler. I find going to the theatre a greater stimulus than almost anything else. To-day I’m lunching with Peggy and dining with Bos, and to-morrow, which is Saturday, I’m going to Fisher’s Gate (the de la Warrs) for the weekend. I’m really enjoying it. I know only two people who have pre-war domestic standards — one is Nancy and the other is Peggy. So I am staying with Nancy in London this week and with Peggy next and can have my breakfast in bed etc.

18/7/43   Seabury Burdett Coutts was here the first night and I meant to tell you because, having disliked him at first, I now really like him. At 12 o’clock at night, having grown rather fat, he started turning cartwheels in a very solemn way over my prostrate body on the bed. It seemed funny at the time.

The De la Warrs still have no news of Harry but they both still hope he will turn up and take it with excessive calm and courage.

Harry Sackville missing
Harry Sackville posted missing


(Hon Thomas Henry Jordan Sackville RAFVR, missing presumed killed on air operations (b. 13 Nov 1922; dvp. 1943)




21/7/43   I should like to discuss with you the whole question of wartime standards and morality. Almost everyone I know is in it. It isn’t only that they have young men, altho’ they do, it’s that they no longer think anything of any of those things any more. P has had five in the last year, M no longer counts, Mb has two going on at once at the moment, and so on. By the time you have wished a fond farewell to your husband and then to your first lover and then to your second I suppose the whole thing begins to lose any value it ever had. I think it’s partly because nobody stays long enough to become a steady. The men are just as bad, at least all those who, before the war, were potentially a little dangerous, but would have behaved with reasonable propriety, now don’t bother about anything. A is reported to be rather miserable and certainly has cause to be if she takes it that way. Does it or does it not matter? I think there are heaps of people not doing it — like Bos’s wife Stella and me — but the atmosphere is all the other way.

24/7/43   I have taken on a new man to put in Highman’s old cottage who has cross eyes, drinks, has a wife that drinks, five children and a potty sister-in-law (one room down and two up!) It seems a fairly large chance to take, but as he was the only person who answered the advert I had to take him. He is turning out well. He knows his job and having so much to pay for before he can drink he is a tiger for overtime. Last week he drew £2.17/11 in overtime. It’s extraordinary how much difference even one goodish man can make to the work of the farm. I also have a new girl who is doing secretarial work. Seems very efficient. Too earnest but willing to be fagged on every point as only the real secretary is. There is this about farming. You use all your money once and then you borrow two thirds and use it all again and have as many cars, hirelings, secretaries, pony-carts etc as you can jolly well get. I work hard but am surrounded with what in the ordinary way would be luxuries we could never afford.

Groppi, in Cairo

25/7/43   A beautiful tin of boiled sweets from Groppie arrived just in time as we are right out and Mrs Wheeldon hasn’t got any except on coupon. Thomas is much improved and Nelson seems to have done him good. He is always sweet when he is alone with me. Of the two he is the more obvious product of his heredity. He has my conscientiousness and respect for the law, and your reasonableness and possibly your brain, tho’ not a spark of originality. Rose is really nobody’s business. Neither of us have that peculiar and in some ways rather attractive sullenness and both of us are much more straightforward than she is. Also I don’t think either of us is so tough. Nearly all men dote on her because she is so gay and tough but chiefly because they are already unable to resist the fact that she is impersonal and doesn’t give a damn for them.


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A Woman's War