Chosen by Lady Emma Barnard
This remarkable notebook was kept by my great-aunt Veronica, the daughter of Clive and Alicia Pearson, who lived at Parham. Veronica deposited it with West Sussex Record Office before her death in 1993; it is a moving record of wartime life on the estate, a vignette of an extraordinary time.
Parham was requisitioned in 1942, and Canadian soldiers moved into Nissen huts in the Park. The officers were billeted in the western half of the House; my family remained in the eastern half, and Veronica’s notebook starts when the soldiers arrive. Veronica, at 26, had just lost her husband Marcus Rueff, killed in Libya after only eight months of marriage. As her father was largely absent in London for business reasons, she took on the running of the Estate. She was also Deputy Voluntary Food Officer for the South Eastern Division of the Ministry of Food, in charge of rations for the Canadians. She made it her business to get on with them; it was greatly in their interests to get on with her.
Parham’s Canadians were, she would say, a “decent bunch”. For the most part, they were engineers, so could mend what they broke. Veronica and my grandmother Lavinia (whose husband was in Germany, a prisoner of war) ran an advisory service for the soldiers each week from one of the Nissen Huts, helping them with life in England: how to post letters or gifts home to Canada, where to go on leave, how to get there, where to stay, and what to see. This work forged an excellent relationship with the visiting troops and helped the family keep their ears to the ground – an invaluable asset, if the place and its people were to be looked after properly. Their personal involvement, and, I believe, their kindness, meant that Parham survived the war in better shape than many.
In her notebook, Veronica records the names of many of those stationed at Parham, and sometimes comments further. Her observations are human, humorous and, sometimes, simply sad.
“Drank milk. Became staff chaplain.”
“Looked after the 2 Miss McQueens when their cat had torn them very badly”.
“Inspected arms dump explosion left by last units in sand pit”.
“Made a gate in the chicken run”
“Blew his hand off”
“Left his family photographs to me to look after and never collected them”.
“Had cotton wool in his ears which fascinated Miranda S [my mother, who was only about 3 at the time]”
“Had a greyhound”
“Left clothes brush at Parham”
“Repaired our basketware chairs and was an American Indian”
Sadly, “killed later” is written many times.
On 21nd August 2016 I was honoured to give an Address at the Canadian Memorial Day Service, by the Canadian Memorial on Worthing seafront. This is organised by the excellent charity Canadian Roots UK, which to date has reunited 139 war children with their fathers or families in Canada, and some were there that day. The Canadian soldiers are part of our Sussex history. They sacrificed much. Their legacy, and the memories, are very precious.