The Wartime Diary of a Country Lady
(discovered, edited & with illustrations researched by H M S Seaweed 2010)
It’s 1942, the war still drags on but we are definitely going to win now as the Japs have obligingly dragged in America so we can’t lose. But it is all going to take a jolly long time. My New Year Resolution is to keep a diary (how unoriginal!). By the way, I’m Penny Cholmondley and I live in Breckham in north-west Norfolk with my husband Rodney on a farm that has been in his family for centuries.
1.1.1942 When the war had just got going Rodney got in an awful bate, he'd been training his Yeomanry for months and then they were told to leave their horses behind. And would you believe it, our chauffeur was called up and given a commission in something called REME.
He was even more fed up when he discovered later that the Sherwood Foresters, sent to Palestine, kept their horses.
In 1939 I taped all our windows with sticky paper, which stops any flying glass. The Government says so. We have buckets of sand for incendiaries (although I think our old timbers would go up Whoosh!) and a stirrup pump, because the farm is a bit of a way from help if we need it.
4.1.1942 Rodney points out that the Call-up is being run by the Min.of Labour under Ernie Bevin, who was a conschie in the last lot, and sat safe at home organising Trade Unions, but is now conscripting other people’s sons to fight for his safety. Like Herbert Morrison (who made a point of being a conschie even though, with only one eye, he would have been a King’s hard bargain) and Fenner Brockway. Typical Socialist filth.
8.1.1942 Apparently a cat has a different number of ribs from a rabbit. The butcher won't tell me which is which? I have put up a notice about our missing Tibbles, tabby with a red collar. His war work against the rats in the barn and the mice in the house made him especially valuable.
12.1.1942 I'm a bit worried about Rodney. Trying to run the farm without enough help was so tiring but the odd thing is that since we were sent the Land Girls he comes in each evening quite exhausted.
Rodney says that long before 2010 the Army will have learned its lesson and brought back the horse. I think the officers look so much more handsome in breeches and riding boots.
15.1.1942 This clothes rationing which arrived out of a cloudless sky in the middle of last year is proving rather a strain. In this freezing weather we both need extra clothes and it’s no good thinking we should have stocked up while the going was good. Fortunately we are well supplied with more formal clothing - Rodney has had his father’s suits turned and recut as luckily he and his papa were much of a size - and we have the cedar wardrobe that came from the Manor to keep the moth out. Day to day wear is a different kettle of fish. Ladies didn’t wear slacks before the war the way one does now and these now prove very useful in the cold weather. When it’s really awful I wear a pair of Rodney‘s long pants underneath - there’s another thing we need more of, they don’t last forever. I could go on and on. Mercifully I was, unfashionably, rather fond of sewing and knitting as a girl so these arts are again to the fore. The wool of course is rationed, 1 coupon to 2 ounces.
19.1.1942 I don't understand it, the Land Girls they billet on us seem, one after another, to put on weight and then disappear. Rodney says he can't understand it either, but there was something odd about the way he said that. He didn't seem to agree with me that Eyetie PoWs might be a better bet.
23.1.1942 We've just been sent a replacement Land Girl. Their quartermaster can't be up to much, her green pullover is much too tight, even Rodney noticed. As it is he said something about having to break her in, like a horse I suppose. He was out for ages but said he had done a long overdue job tidying the hay loft.
Rodney's never been quite the same since he was kicked out of his beloved Yeomanry after one of the local wurzels reversed into him in one of those new Whites I think they call them. I thought Whites were potatoes. I think the new CO being from a grammar school has upset him too.
30.1.1942 It's hell on the Home Front since someone bribed Cook with doubling her pay to go and sew parachutes, but I think I've got the hang of cabbage soup now. Rodney says I have to take the mud off potatoes, I never knew that, did you? The Daily Mail had a smashing recipe for Pop Carrot, made out of carrot and potato. I was getting so fed up with potato and carrot, this recipe came in the nick of time, even though here we use turnip instead of carrot, alternately.
2.2.1942 Malaya has fallen, a battle for Singapore has started. The communiqués in the Times have always tried to give a positive outlook but it has been one long retreat. Whether we can fight back remains to be seen. Rodney says we completely misread Japanese strategy, tactics and ability; the management of the campaign has revealed unbelievable complacency and incompetence, including throwing away two battleships because the admirals were too ignorant and complacent about air power.
8.2.1942 Rodney's bad back does seem to be a bit better now. The Land Girls have all gone and we have some more 'Eyeties' - very friendly, they brought me a couple of rabbits yesterday. Rodney says they are an idle shower and spend all day combing their hair which I have to admit is very luxuriant and shiny. Oddly, I can't find my olive oil bottle which was still half full and one can't get any more these days. Rodney calls them greasy Wops but I think some of them are sweet and Mario has lovely brown eyes. They do sing beautifully. I quite like having them around. Mario has offered to help in the house.
10.2.1942 Soap is rationed. Which bits shall I wash less? Rodney does like a clean wife.
14.2.1942 I can't wait to thank Rodney for his Valentine, it's in Italian, he's not usually so romantic.
16.2.1942 SINGAPORE HAS FALLEN. Rodney says this is the single worst event in the entire history of the British Empire, worse even than Yorktown. He says that the British, Dutch and French have forfeited all standing for Europeans in South East Asia. It is simply not believable that our once subject peoples there will ever accept our return, now that we have failed them in the most basic function of Government, the protection of the governed. We have betrayed them to a cruel, brutal regime and the shame of our defeat will last for generations.
Three battalions of Norfolk lads have just disappeared. Perhaps some will reappear at some eventual peace but one can only hope.
27.2.1942 Anyway my Rodney won't have to work so hard now, most of the farm has been requisitioned for an airfield. I gather Americans are coming. Rodney thinks the Land Girls left in the nick of time. The pub is said to have laid in an extra firkin of Bitter to welcome them. That crippled oaf George that we still have to employ says one firkin won't be the half of it and he said it in rather an odd way, even allowing for his incomprehensible accent.
3.3.1942 I visited the barn today to see how the Italians were faring and they seem to have made themselves comfortable, indeed they seem to have tricked the place out a bit, can't think where they get the cash from.
31.3.1942 The National (rather grey) Loaf takes a little getting used to but like everything else in this war we shall grit our teeth and jolly well get used to it. I have to remember that sailors are dying so that I can be fed.
11.5.1942 Some good news at last: Rodney says the great American victory in the Coral Sea has saved Ceylon as the Japs can no longer risk sending a fleet to the Indian Ocean. It was fought out exclusively by aeroplanes, won because quite fortuitously the American aircraft carriers were not in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese struck (without first declaring war, but that’s them).
14.5.1942 Mario is a boon, he can't do enough in the house. Apparently he used to be a plumber and he says he's going to be famous after the war. He has sorted out a lot of gurgling in our ancient pipes.
9.6.1942 The Americans have brought the Japanese to battle off Midway Island and American naval air power has inflicted a crushing defeat on the Japs . Rodney says It will be a long slog but there is now no possibility of victory for Japan, as they can never hope to build ships as quickly or in the quantities that America can. If the Japanese had ever understood the massive industrial power of the United States they would surely never have started this nonsense.
15.6.1942 Mario brought me a pheasant today, needs to hang for a bit, seemed to have died of a broken neck. I think I can make it last three days for just Rodney and me. Rodney's only comment was that it was June.
Which reminds me, when I went to the butcher last week he had one and a half brace hanging up as well as several rabbits. Can't think where he gets them from. Rodney said they were semi-nocturnal, which I did know about rabbits, but R said he meant the Wops, who he says are half asleep and useless during the day.
16.7.1942 Anyway, they go tomorrow as with the Ministry taking the farm for our Allies there's hardly any farm work left, only the chickens - oddly, lately there seem not to be so many, and they haven't been laying very well.
18.7.1942 Rodney's baby brother Rupert came yesterday for a flying visit, don't know how he worked it, when I asked him how long he had he said he was on a split yarn. He is Fleet Air Arm and does speak a rather strange argot. He left this morning, saying wings would have him if he was adrift. The little angel brought a bottle of GIN with him and there is at least a quarter of it left. He says he drives a stringbag which seems odd, so also his 'looker' that the refers to and I can't work out if this is some sort of talisman or maybe imaginary friend. Apparently he's in a stone frigate at the moment up in Scotland somewhere, Rodney asked him if he got any fun ashore, he somewhat cryptically replied that the jennies' blackouts are a bit of a problem. I mean it's light so late with this double summer time, isn't it, how is blackout a problem?
Rupert had planned an earlier visit but had to scrub round it because he had been boned for something else. He said.
20.7.1942 The chickens seem to be laying better now the Italians have gone. I am so relieved because I was worried about the Billeting Officer's usual order, didn't want to let him down.
25.7.1942 Rodney says that one benefit of the farm being requisitioned is no more visits from that ghastly common little man with a briefcase full of useless bumf who used to try and tell us how to run it. He knew absolutely nothing about farming and is obviously one of that army of drones that seem to be infesting civilian life instead of serving their King.
31.7.1942 Now Rodney's back's better he's certainly more friendly. He's still unfit of course but with the farm gone he still wants to do his bit. George (as far as I could make out) said something about 'Mr Cholmondley was already doing his bit on the farm when the girls were here' but George is a bit grumpy as we have had to let him go, even though I gather he is being paid twice as much to 'work' on the new airfield. If they can get any work out of George they are welcome to him. I always find the older local peasant rather hard work, we never had that bother in Surrey when I was growing up.
Anyway they have asked Rodney to take over the Home Guard as it is being grown a bit to help with guarding the Americans. Unfortunately soldiers have the most ghastly baggy uniform now, not a patch on what my Rodney looked like when he was mobilised in '39. I found this snap, I think he looked really handsome. A bit like Daddy when he went to see the King (the old one of course).
3.8.1942 Now we aren't a farm we can't have any petrol and were going to have had to put the car up on blocks, there was such a useful article in the Daily Mail about how to do that. One was a bit worried about maybe leaving a pink stain though. However Rodney does get a tiny allowance of petrol for his Home Guard stuff, but not enough for it to be used for anything else. I hate the bus because one does so lose caste using it, but I have to use it to get to Norwich now. It is a utility bus with wooden slatted seats. The village, and villages round about, I do on an old bike which Rodney found in the barn and cleaned up. One is a bit out of practice but there's a war on, isn't there? Fortunately, as Noel Coward observed, ‘very flat, Norfolk’.
As to petrol there is no more Shell, BP etc, it is all ‘pool’ petrol and is carted about in grey tanker lorries with POOL written on them in white paint.
4.8.1942 A rare treat, we had a letter from Rupert - just a bread and butter one of course - he says he has got a brand-new Woolworth carrier. This sounded rather useful so in Norwich I went into Woolworth's and asked about it but they didn't seem to know anything. Rupert is still incomprehensible, he says his Peggy chucked (has he had a girl in Scotland? One does wonder) and he had a barrier prang whatever that is and his tag was shaken up and they cleared the goofers for him, no idea what that means. If the bag is made of string how can you bend it?
5.8.1942 The land the Government has taken runs north-east from the house - for years it's been the view we get across the little stream. Yesterday was ghastly, machines right up to the stream and a sort of concrete wall going in right in front of our windows. Oh well, it's generally upwind (thank goodness when Rodney was spreading slurry), so at least we won't mostly get smells from the aircraft. I hear the Americans don't fly at night which is good.
Rupert says he can't stick the fish-heads, I thought naval food was good but this sounds ghastly.
10.8.1942 I have borrowed a cockerel and given him a couple of the best layers to play with, which may cheer him up after being brought here in a sack which did not please him. They are in segregation so that I know which eggs to put to hatch and thus privily increase my battery. He is an early bird so back he goes after his honeymoon.
13.8.1942 In his new guise as a Home Guard Rodney has been given a gun. It has 1878 stamped on it somewhere and 'they' are trying to find some bullets for it. They meet in the Scout hut - the pub landlord threw them out apparently after a scene there - and are roping in the Scouts as messengers.
Of course to build the airfield all the posts we had to put into all the fields had to come down. But that was 1940. Rodney's Home Guard did a big exercise 'capturing' 'Huns' (the Ugglethorpe platoon dressed up of course). The picture was in the papers, Rodney is frightfully bucked.
I still don't like our uniforms. Not smart at all.
23.8.1942 I really do need a bit of help in the house now Mario's gone. I biked down to the school yesterday and the schoolmistress promised to look something out for me (I took a few eggs with me, the hens have really perked up). Today she sent Elsie up to the farmhouse, she's 14 and I'm told not very bright but easily led, so that should do, I'll lead her pretty thoroughly. The other is almost inescapable as Rodney says there have only been half a dozen surnames in the village since Queen Elizabeth, and one of them is Cholmondley and the peasants don't use that one.
The point is that the airfield people found all those poles were in the way so I said they could dump them by the barn. Now I've got Elsie the problem of sawing them up and stacking them for winter is solved. That was worrying me as coal is desperately hard to come by and, if you do get any, it is half full of slate and rubbish. I thought it was these 'Bevin Boys' being all Bolshie slackers but Rodney says they don't know what to do because they don't speak Welsh.
29.8.1942 The clothing ration has been cut - just when we need more winter things. We are down to an effective 48 coupons each for a year and a suit is 16 and pro rata. Dalton has told us to go without hats. Most women nowadays seem to wear turbans anyway. As Rodney has a long back he can hardly tuck in his new ‘utility’ shirt.
31.8.1942 When Rodney took over the Home Guard he had to go through the files - actually a drawer in the Scoutmaster's desk - and there was this weird photo. Apparently when the invasion scare was really on in '40 Rodney's predecessor, who was in the last lot, asked about artillery support. Every old gun that ever was seems to have been rounded up and this was coming their way but by the time it was organised the scare was off so it didn't happen. It's mules because horses were so hard to spare from the regulars who needed chargers for the infantry officers, just as had been provided before. Apparently that's where the Yeomanry's horses went, except that one lot went out to Palestine because they had been such a success there with Allenby. When Rodney showed the snap to old General 'Thunderbox' Cumberbatch in the Manor the old boy said these were mountain guns which for Norfolk is a bit rich. Still, we had our backs to the wall then.
3.9.1942 We have been at war three whole years. We gave up all those pots and pans and now Rodney says the aluminium isn't good enough for making aeroplanes and it's going to be used for the new pre-fab houses instead.
I told Rodney I would gladly re-use the gin bottle if only we could get any gin. The pub landlord keeps his own chickens so no hope there. There is still a faint aroma from the bottle Rupert brought and I ration myself to opening it and sniffing it only once a day.
10.9.1942 It’s the recall of the Yeomanry’s horses which has left our stables empty. We never had horses of our own as the Army had so many pre-war Rodney could take his pick as long as he paid the insurance which is only fifteen shillings a month each. Their feeding disappeared into the farm accounts .I used to like my riding.
15.9.1942 SUCH fun last week, my old pal Phyllida came to stay (she is bombed out so shares herself out among her friends). Anyway she brought her emergency ration coupons which is SO important and a half-bottle of GIN! GIN! We came out together and before that were such chums at school. No end of reminiscing, particularly about Miss Featherstonehaugh and Miss Marjoribanks who shared a cottage near the school. Miss F was so MANLY, one had such a crush on her. P says the Navy have taken over the school and wonders if the little notices in the dorms are still there (the ones that said 'Ring bell if you need a mistress in the night'). Don't know why she mentioned that.
P was lucky not to get bombed herself but she had a fifth cousin or something in Gloucestershire with an enormous house who had got as many relations and friends as he could find to come and stay so he didn't get stuck with verminous evacuees. P said lots (the cousins, not the evacueees) brought their dogs so it was babel. So she takes short holidays from there for a rest.
I said how difficult it was to get SHOES, the ones with wooden soles are just the thing for doing out the chickens but awkward on the bike, and I feel like some Lancastrian mill girl in clogs, not one at all. P said she knew someone called Mario who had a cousin in America who comes from Sicily who might be able to help. She has it in hand. Can it be MY Mario? No good trying a description as at a level all the Wops look the same.
Clunk clunk off to the kitchen to try and make supper without straw, if you know what I mean. No shortage of turnips in Norfolk and that's only the villagers. Gosh I miss pre-war and Surrey and couth people.
23.9.1942 Sweet rationing is annoying Rodney who has rather a sweet tooth. I let him have all my D and E coupons, but I make him work for them. Hint, girls!
25.9.1942 I bicycled around a bit to see how 'our' airfield is getting on. There are a lot of funny huts like the ones one keeps pigs in but larger. And a square boxy thing with a balcony, I suppose that is for the officers. Also some Americans have now arrived, not many so far. Rodney says he hopes they are nicer chaps than the ghastly anti-British Ambassador they had over here, who was thankfully kicked out in 1940. He says that man is an IRA sympathiser and was only Ambassador because he had made a lot of money out of bootlegging and other racketeering during prohibition and bought his way into politics. He has several children (haven't they all, the Pope makes them breed like rabbits?), all equally ghastly.
29.9.1942 Our local Bobby, PC Blake, who lost most of his right leg in 3rd Ypres, was trundling along on his motorbike last night when a strange thing like an open trolley with an engine in front came bouncing along on the wrong side of the road. Poor old Blake ended up with his sidecar in the ditch and hobbled over on his wooden leg to ask the other driver what he thought he was doing. It was hardly a meeting of minds and apparently the owner of the other thing is called someone called Uncle Sam. Locals coming out of the pub got Blake going again and he is off to Norwich to seek guidance from his Super. I feel so sorry for him as normally he only has to pootle round the village (with his wooden leg stuck out) looking for chinks in the blackout. I mean chinks of light, we don't have the other sort in Norfolk. The sidecar is for balance as ordinary riding really needs two legs. The other driver said he didn't see Blake as of course the motorcycle headlamp has a screen on it with only a tiny slit. Not having streetlamps can't be the problem as we didn't have them anyway.
The trolley thing is apparently called a Giepie or something.
4.10.1942 I managed to head off Rodney setting fire to the house. Now we are not a farm any more The Man from the Ministry (the one Rodney calls a poisonous little oik, and a lot of other things) has to come and go through the books. So since last week Rodney has been closeted in his den working on the accounts. In the end he had to write the whole lot out again apparently. He emerged with armfuls of paper and books which he said needed to be burnt as they would only confuse the issue if they were mixed up with the new accounts. He said we couldn't burn them outside because the fire might still be going at blackout time (you should have seen the size of the pile!) so he went to put them in the big fireplace that we haven't used since '39 because we can't get the coal. Luckily I caught him and pointed out that the chimney hadn't been swept since Nelson was a little boy at Burnham Thorpe, or at any rate since pre-war, and I've seen the odd bird coming out of the chimney pot so I think there must be nests in it. I pointed out how the Rolfes will never get Heacham Hall back now the RAF have done Goering's work for him and burnt it down, Apparently some erk, obviously not house-trained, faced with a room inspection, hid an illicit primus stove in a wardrobe.
So Rodney agreed to run his fire in the grate under the copper while I stood by with our virgin stirrup pump which mercifully has not had to be used in anger.
By the way the Rolfes have never let on how they are connected to the John who brought Pocahontas home after she had entertained the troops by turning cartwheels with no knickers on. I would love to have seen their faces when he turned up at Heacham with a squaw in tow. Which brings us back to the Americans who arrived in quantity in buses yesterday so I suppose the aeroplanes can't be far behind. The children mob the Yanks in the village as they seem to have unlimited quantities of sweets to give away. I was afraid the pub would run dry after about half an hour but quite early there was a row and the landlord threw all the white ones out after they tried to stop a handful of black ones from being served. The slightly couther villagers say the black ones have beautiful manners and call everyone Sir or Maam.
Rodney says we should have the CO over for a meal but that is easier said than done. I'm working on it. I think he wants to get one over General Thunderbox actually but the way Thunderbox rattles on about being related to the Cornwallises I don't think we are in that much of a hurry.
8.10.1942 Rodney was thumbing through some back numbers of the Times before cutting them up into useful squares. He thinks he should put people right about Croydon and so forth. Croydon aerodrome can only handle land planes and flying boats are the thing of the future; before the war they were opening up speedy travel to the Empire, only a few days all the way to Africa and so forth. There is a good plan, which the present emergency has merely postponed, to establish a major flying boat port in Langstone Harbour, which will have speedy access by train from London. There is much more room in a flying boat and that means one can get decent table service. Also, one can move around and chat to one's fellow passengers, as one is not crammed together as one is on one of these American DC aeroplanes. When this temporary nonsense is over there will be lots of RAF surplus Sunderlands to get this thing going.
He says Croydon will be useful for hopping over to Paris for a dirty weekend, but otherwise land planes for passengers will never catch on.
Apparently seaplane fighters will be the thing as well, as they can operate from any of our many islands and atolls spread across the globe and thus the RAF will keep our Empire safe in future, and we shall not have to build expensive aircraft carriers anymore, and will not have the ridiculous expense of having to keep buying aircraft for the Navy, who keep breaking them. An Air Chief Marshal told Rodney all about this, a jolly good chap who used to be RFC. He has been buying shares in Shorts as a result, there's a tip.
Oh - there was one little oddity but I don't suppose it matters, The ACM had a very comprehensive map of how the RAF were going to do it, but Australia seemed to be in the wrong place. Printer's error perhaps. Wizard scheme according to him.
17.10.1942 Furniture is to be rationed and only ‘Utility’ furniture will be made. As we will not be eligible for any ‘furniture dockets’ it doesn’t, I suppose, matter that what will be available is only marginally fit for a skivvy’s bedroom. But at least what is made will be fairly shared out to those most in need (rackets apart).
23.10.1942 Sorry, diary, I had often skip a few days but this time Elsie was off with a cold or something and we were on our own stuck out here so we treated ourselves to a romantic break in London. London was a wreck so in the end we stayed in most of the time. We agreed ages ago that I wouldn’t pup while the war was on, and since we lost Malaya the rubber situation has been a bit fraught, so we have had to use our initiative. Anyway my writing arm got a bit frazzled and only now am I happy with a pen again.
30.10.1942 We’ve just heard that the Manor is being requisitioned so that the Americans can use it for an Officers’ Mess. I wonder whether they will have brought any grand silver with them. The Yeomanry had an enormous goat’s head thing they took snuff from after dinner. Of course it means Thunderbox will have to move out. His wife died ages ago and he just had his mad Baluchi kidmutgar to look after him, but one does wonder whether the k. (can’t spell it twice) will be allowed in the private hotel in Nantwich that I gather Thunderbox is moving to. Anyway that means I have a bit more time to organise something for the American colonel as Thunderbox won’t be trumping the Cholmondleys with an invitation.
1.11.1942 Perhaps I ought to explain. Rodney’s family bought the village off Henry VIII, but Rodney’s great-grandfather tried to run with Tum Tum with mistresses and all that (his wife was one of Tum Tum’s) and lived somewhat beyond his means. When Rodney’s grandfather inherited he had to trim the dish by selling the Manor house, and the cottages in the village, and the pub, which the locals still call the Cat and Fiddle even though when it was done up by great grandpa in ’11 it was renamed the Cholmondley Arms and given the sign that still hangs there. There was a worry that the Manor would go to some arms profiteer from North London but Thunderbox was retiring from India and snapped it up so that seemed to be alright. The only problem was that Thunderbox thought he could sit in the front pew in the church, which has been the Cholmondley pew since the Reformation, and still is, and indeed Rodney still has the advowson which hasn’t been exercised for ages as the Vicar has been here since Victoria or even Queen Anne. He’s getting on a bit so we shall see, he has to look after Ugglethorpe as well now that their man is ministering to the RAF somewhere in India. It means we have Matins here one week and the next Ugglethorpe has it and we have Evensong. In winter that is at 3 p.m. because it is impossible to black out a church. Sorry about the history lesson but I need to explain that we are OLD country gentry, not some late arrival, and hanging on by our eyelids with no servants and a war on and rationing and shortages and general misery for all. When I told Rodney what I’d like to do to Hitler he said half the job was done for us already. So it’s true what the soldiers sing about him. Wonder if what they sing about Goering and Himmler and Goebbels as well.
3.11.1942 Our small, difficult but brilliant General Montgomery and his Desert Rats have smashed up Rommel at some place no one had heard of called El Alamein. Rodney says Rupert is involved there somehow as he shook sand out of Rupert’s last letter.
6.11.1942 I now have enough cardboard milk bottle tops saved up to raffia them into a shopping basket. Very war-chic. Shows everyone else that I am Doing My Bit.
9.11.1942 Brilliant news, an enormous British and American army has landed in Africa so Rommel will be kicked in the backside as well as in the teeth. An affable Yank called Ike Eisenhower has been out in charge of everybody. Rodney says it is an odd choice as Ike has never commanded any sort of formation at all and got up the ladder playing what Americans call football. Rodney says that the Yanks are now in charge of the war and if we are lucky we might get thanked for keeping it going long enough for them to join in.
12.11.1942 The aeroplanes finally arrived. They are huge and came roaring in VERY low in a long line and they all seem to have naked women painted on their noses and a huge circle on their tail. Racket from the airfield continued all day. There were about two dozen of them. ‘Out of the scalding West’ as John Pudney puts it. Rodney says Pudney is a sodomite.
The Vichy French in Africa have finally realised the game is up but the odious Admiral Darlan is still at their head and we have to deal with him. He supported Petain’s betrayal of France, and indeed of us, in 1940 and is no friend of what we are fighting for.
15.11.1942 The Cholmondleys were always hard men to hounds and usually took a turn as MFH in their generation, indeed it was the Hunt that partly did for great grandpa’s fortunes. Now the orchard and paddock which were used to graze the hunters are a bit lank. Thought needed!
18.11.1942 I had a bit of a blitz in the old stables with Elsie (it is difficult to use her indoors as she is barely house-trained and breaks things, a cow in a china shop one might say) and we are going to clear one of the bays although it means shifting some agricultural bits that were dumped in there when the land went. It is all horse-drawn stuff and Rodney says no use now as the farmers are getting tractors from this Lend-Lease of Roosevelt’s. I found a spool of rot-proof garden thread and have re-run the lines from my back mudguard to the hub to stop my skirt catching in the wheel of Ermintrude my beloved bike so that’s a bonus. The rest will have to wait until I recruit some more muscle power. Elsie is well-built (indeed, for 14 surprisingly well-developed) and strong as a horse but it needs two and I’m not going to be one of them.
21.11.1942 Elsie said she had a cousin Michael who might help. He has just turned 17 and is now one of the youngsters in Rodney’s Home Guard. He came over on appro and I have taken him on for a week and he and Elsie have shunted all the old farm rubbish up one end of the stable. Then I decided I might as well have a blitz on the attic bedrooms which have a lot of Cholmondley junk in them from when the Manor went. Rodney says it’s all just Victorian firewood anyway. So Elsie and Michael have hauled that into the stable and dumped it but the end bay is still clear and of course still has its manger and the stable drain appears to work. This is to do with Elsie letting on that she could milk a cow so you see where this is leading. Michael said that Elsie was a good milker but there was a sort of edge to his voice which puzzles me.
23.11.1942 Gaffer Stannard over at Ugglethorpe was the contractor for the airfield which was risky for the Ministry but I suppose beggars can’t be choosers. All sorts of men were signed on as plumbers, electricians etc although with some of them I have never heard they knew anything about that at all. Gaffer has his brother Harry living with him who took a bit of a knock at Gallipoli so looks after a few animals that Gaffer has knocking about. Gaffer is careful to keep their numbers below what either the Min of Ag or the Min of Food might notice. Gaffer is Elsie’s mother’s uncle and I must say you can see the resemblance in Elsie so very clearly. Anyway I saddled up Ermintrude and went over to see Gaffer and he agreed to sell me Molly as his calves were mostly heifers this year and he wants to bring them on but not increase his herd or all sorts of bother will attend. He mentioned that his cousin Daisy Everett was going to give her sow Geraldine the chop (how does RAF slang creep into even this diary? Piece of cake .. ) as she failed to farrow this year and so her time has come. So I went to see Daisy and we had a bit of a chat and that is the Colonel problem solved although, and of course, I shall have to pay a bit over the odds for what she sells but one can’t expect Daisy to be a charity. All this stuff is sub rosa of course.
25.11.1942 Quite late - after it was dark - who should turn up but Michael, leading Molly. Rodney was still doing his H.Guard but anyway Michael and I got Molly into the stall and all is set. He said he’ll tell Elsie to be here early.
27.11.1942 I had a chat to the milkman and of course to Nugget, the pony that pulls the float from which Albert Strutton (cousin of Gaffer, the Everetts etc) ladles out our meagre ration from his churn. The float is very modern in that it has rubber tyres. Albert will take our surplus and also butter if we have an excess, as it will make his own life easier in terms of looking after his friends and special customers. The amount is fairly small so the transaction should not raise any eyebrows. Albert already takes surplus veg off us and sells it on his round. If we all help each other our little world will come through the present nausea in one piece.
29.11.1942 The Colonel said he could come on a Saturday evening. Rodney has made the invitation out for him plus one.
In these long winter evenings one enjoys the wireless. Mr Handley’s ‘ITMA’ is deservedly popular and of course the Nine O’Clock News is a fixture, our window on Armageddon as it were. There are no weather forecasts as the Hun might be listening.
1.12.1942 Our other window on the war is Lord Haw-Haw (‘Jairmany calling’) which is hilarious if slightly spooky. Hope we have a rope ready for him after we win and also for P G Wodehouse who is broadcasting for the Nazis.
3.12.1942 The attic clearout is pretty well finished but I have to be careful over what I throw out as we are ineligible for dockets under the furniture rationing scheme that started last month, being neither newly-weds nor bombed out. So we have also moved things around to give each room a basic set of furniture as far as possible.
5.12.1942 The bombers all took off right over the house early this morning, the noise was indescribable, and they didn’t seem to go to Germany but stooged around in a big formation all close together. Elsie says the airmen all have a medal already, apparently that is for being in dangerous old England. She has hit it off really well with Molly and leans against her, milking and singing quietly to herself. One of the songs is about not sitting under an apple tree and another is Little Brown Jug but sung in a jazzy sort of way. I have got Michael finishing off the sawing and stacking the logs in the main barn as Rodney says there is no pointing them getting wet and besides some have a sort of arrow stamped on them.
7.12.1942 The Colonel said long ago he didn’t really need the Home Guard as his own people would look after the airfield so Rodney’s little gang have had quite a quite time, but they still meet up and do drill and occasionally get bussed over to Thetford Forest for some sort of training exercise. They have all sorts of pukka kit now which they didn’t at all when we had our backs to the wall and were facing invasion in ‘40. It is a sort of club for the older ones who when they ‘fall out’ go straight to the pub which keeps a few pints back for them. One of them has a Boer War ribbon and yarns about men being left out in the sun strapped to a gun as No.1 Field Punishment.
10.12.1942 It was our anniversary on Saturday so we went into Norwich and saw a film about Dickie Mountbatten with Noel Coward. Rodney says Coward is a sodomite. He says MountB would never have survived racing down the Tyne in a very flashy manner and getting his ship mined except that his rich wife (Cassel steel etc) paid for the repairs. There was an awful stink just before the war when she was carted off to hospital apparently twined round some black bloke and a paper said it was Al Jolson and it wasn’t because he is a white bloke made up and there was a law suit and lots of damages. No it wasn’t says Rodney it was Paul Robeson that it wasn’t, who of course is really black. Actually Rodney says that even people with only a tenuous toe-hold on ‘Society’ know that who it was, was Hutch, who has let it be known that he is well endowed and is therefore much sought after by Society ladies.
Norwich is about the only place I can cash a cheque so I did that too, no £5 notes of course as nobody can give change for those out in the villages. Indeed £1 notes are a bit of an embarrassment, so I usually take nothing bigger than 10/- ones.
We don’t go there much since it was so spitefully (and pointlessly) bombed this April by that Hun filth because seeing all that damage gets me down although mercifully they missed the cathedral. We treated ourselves to a taxi back and a late breakfast the next day as it was an Evensong day and no Matins. Elsie comes in every morning now and milks so I pay her a bit more now and everybody is happy.
11.12.1942 Michael turned up again, again after dark, with a gammon joint and some chops and a leg of pork and some sausages so I biked over to Daisy the next day and paid her. Cash of course, it would be a bit de haut en bas to offer a cheque. I have found an old churn and cleaned it up and sterilised it and Elsie has started making butter with the left-over milk. I have found a husband for Molly over at Attleford and Elsie says she is happy to walk Molly over when the time is right, and as to that, she will tell me when as she knows all about that. Elsie and Molly seem to get on really well together, I suppose Elsie finds Molly satisfyingly intellectually undemanding. Elsie does seem to be putting on a bit of weight and when not singing, seems to be chewing something, just like Molly! I am going to have the orchard cut for hay next year as Molly seems to like apples and that won’t do. With that and what’s in the barn for this winter and some turnips that should solve feeding Molly. With milk and eggs and butter I am well up in trade goods so the diet is looking up for us too.
As to Molly’s husband I suppose one day the vets will do it with a syringe but for the moment the bull at least gets something out of it before becoming - slaver at the thought - steak. Rodney says one day it will be syringes for people too and little glass dishes, just like Aldous Huxley’s rude book Brave New World.
The bombers were to go on a raid so were much heavier and the first one put its wheels right through Gaffer Stannard’s concrete so that’s one of his short cuts found out. More to the point the whole Group was messed up and there is a big row about that, so big that even I heard about it.
12.12.1942 Phyllida came to stay, escaping the Gloucestershire bear-garden or rather dog-garden. However I wonder if she has been quite straight with me over that as she seems to have been up to something hush-hush in London and I think her Glos. idyll only just saw the blitz out. Her mother was French and P is bilingual and her French totally modern and colloquial of course. Indeed she only just got out of France in ’40, her mother wouldn’t leave which is a worry for her as she has heard nothing for months. Phyllida brought me six pairs of silk stockings which amazed me. Her Mario obviously has interesting friends. She says he is very particular about sizes including in her case inside leg as she is quite tall.
I teased P about not having a husband yet. She pointed out (1) she was not at all cast in the mould of Miss Featherstonehaugh in case that was what I was thinking, and (2) the one thing there wasn’t a shortage of in wartime London was MEN. Rodney overheard some of this and said afterwards that she was clearly into coarse fishing, hook them, feel their weight (a phrase I thought coarse in itself), and throw them back. Certainly she seems to have no trouble attracting them. P said that once the war is over she might take life seriously but for now she was going to have FUN.
14.12.1942 The Bramleys in the loft are turning their usual golden yellow now so taste just like pears and P made a Pear Belle Helene with some pudding rice she had somehow found in London. P went for great dollops of Molly’s cream which is a treat P doesn’t get in London except when some man is paying. She says the most unlikely men seem to be rich as they have lots of pay saved up from when they couldn’t spend it, but the liveliest have usually got on in this war and got promoted, so are even better off.
One of P’s men thinks he helped win the Desert war with a fake explosive that looks like a lump of camel dung. In case Jerry twigged it the Mark 2 version was moulded with a fake tyre track through it so Jerry would think it was safe.
15.12.1942 The Colonel came to dinner on Saturday, no staff here of course - I thought of dressing Elsie up but decided it would cost too much in broken china. He is Robert P Vandenburg and by American standards a gent., his family go back to buying Manhattan for forty dollars and so forth, quite a charmer. He brought one of his officers with him, a pilot called Stewart who introduced himself as Jim. I’m sure I’ve seen him somewhere before, how odd. He has a throaty drawly voice and I have the odd feeling that was familiar too. Most puzzling. Phyllida vamped him like mad. I was able to do roast pork and syllabub and of course loads of our own veg. and Rodney found a decent red in the cellar. Our guests brought food presents which was decent of them, tins of something called Klim which is a sort of dried milk, and Spam which is a strange sort of meat thing, and raisins and sultanas which was quite psychic of them so we shall have decent cakes and puddings for a while. In spite of having our own milk - Geraldine will soon be used up - the Klim will buy favours as yet unplanned. Rodney took to Colonel Vandenburg who is ‘Episcopalian’ which is yank for C of E and has invited him to share the Cholmondley family pew. I don’t know if the Colonel realises what a rare honour that is. Most of the Americans are RC or Baptist and have their own chaplains. The RC are mostly Italian and Irish. Apparently many of them are at home in the village and villages round about which I suspect is cupboard love but no matter. Of course there will be rows when our own men are home on leave, I can see it coming.
The eating was most odd, Vandenburg and Stewart both cut everything up in tiny pieces as one would do for a child, and then set to with fork alone. They seemed just as fascinated by our ambidextrous dexterity as we were by them. Somehow, terrible manners really, the subject bubbled up - apparently the early settlers were short of knives so used to cut everything up and then pass the knife to the next and it has become a sort of tribal custom.
Communication was difficult as the Americans use what they think is English but seems always to mean something different, and their grammar is not good in that they say different ‘than’ and use ‘like’ as a conjunction. There was a curious hiatus when Jim asked Rodney for the ‘John’ and when this drew a blank look the bathroom, so Rodney took him upstairs but was puzzled why a guest should suddenly want a bath. However a flush from upstairs clarified things but why don’t they say ‘lavatory’ like normal people? Anyway it was nice having them and we have said that their officers can come over in twos and threes and put their feet up if they want a rest from khaki - which was eventually translated into ‘olive drab’. Thank goodness Phyllida is here and I have someone who speaks English to talk to.
Phyllida as ever called me Catherine, it confused the Yanks. I had to explain that when we started at school there were a Penelope Post and a Penelope Black and a Penelope Royal already in our form, so Miss Featherstonehaugh said I had to be Catherine as my (maiden) name was Wheal (we are originally form Cornwall, from Redruth). Then I had to explain all four rather silly jokes. Vandenburg said ‘You don’t say?’ Jim said ‘Gee is that so?’
17.12.1942 Phyllida said I am a silly goose, didn’t I know that was James Stewart the film actor? Who? She is more up with things than I shall ever be. She has moved in to a flat in Mayfair which is owned by Rodney’s mother’s distant cousin Eddie who was at Harrow with him. Eddie is in the Navy but seems to have some job in town, hush hush again I suppose, but he is away a lot and likes to have someone else living there as well to deter thieves and squatters. We don’t have thieves here; anyone trying it on one of the outlying farms knows they would get a quick dose of twelve-bore and in the village they sort themselves out without bothering PC Blake. One naughty lad had a really nasty fall and never goes to the pub any more.
20.12.1942 The ‘Flying Fortresses’ which most of the American squadrons here are equipped with is a pretty advanced aeroplane, the Americans boast they can put a bomb in a pickle barrel from 12,000 feet, so will only hit military targets. Also, with so many guns Jerry can't shoot it down.
However here in Norfolk we have a different thing, just as big, called a Liberator. They have started work and roar off to bash Fritz early each morning. When they come back many are in various forms of distress, propellers idling, one with half its tail shot away. Some don’t come back.
We told the Colonel that if any of his officers wanted to get away from the Base and put their feet up in civilian surroundings for an hour or two they would be welcome here and they could just loll about and do nothing if they wanted to.
26.12.1942 The third Christmas of the war. It’s dark, it’s cold, and one of the chickens (one that is completely off-lay now, I’m not a fool) has had to masquerade as a turkey. One of Phyllida’s friends sent some raisins home from N Africa and she VERY generously gave some to me which I saved for a pud. We poured brandy over it and then down us to cheer us up. Don’t know which was the more lit up.
28.12.1942 Some decent cove has assassinated the odious Frog Admiral Darlan so there is some justice in this world. Rodney says he hopes it hurt.