Falling truly, madly, deeply in love with one animal after another was a recurrent theme of the author’s childhood, actively encouraged by her beautiful, impetuous mother as she single-handedly held the family together during the war’s darkest days.
While her husband’s regiment battled through the Tunisian desert to Italy and Austria, she criss-crossed beleaguered Britain with children, ration books, and an unwieldy train of rabbits, dogs, cats and ponies, dreaming of land of her own.
But farming can’t be learned overnight, and translated into the reality of 400 acres of hilly, rain-lashed Radnorshire, that dream became a challenge for all ranks. Dragooned into acting as unskilled, unpaid labour for jobs that would make today’s Health-and-Safety freaks blench – burning rushes, driving tractors, riding on Land-Rover bonnets and towering haywains – the children came to look on boarding-school as a rest-cure, though they retain from those days of carefree, unregulated farm life a treasure-house of memories.
This elegant memoir, told with disarming honesty and gentle humour, follows the development of a lively, headstrong, self-effacing young girl into womanhood.