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This September marks 80 years since Parham was home to thirty evacuee children in World War II. To commemorate this special anniversary, Parham welcomed back evacuee Ron Callon and his family for a memorable visit this year.
Ron was only nine when he was evacuated from his school in Peckham, East London, through a scheme known as OPERATION PIED PIPER, and he and many children left their homes under the care of their teachers. Ron was brought with his brother to Pulborough, and placed in the care of The Hon Clive and Alicia Pearson, who had indented to take in thirty evacuees, all of whom were between four and nine years old.
Upon arrival at Parham, many of the children came to consider themselves the ‘lucky ones’, despite the tragic circumstances that brought them to the estate. With acres of beautiful parkland to play in, Ron called it a ‘children’s paradise’.
Eighty years later, he remarks how Parham hasn’t changed since his first arrival in 1939: “I still remember where my bedroom used to be, all the places we used to play and the ditch that runs alongside the drive, which on one occasion I was forced to jump in to, to save myself from gun fire overhead.”
Despite being evacuated to the safe surroundings of the Downs, the children witnessed a number of ‘dog fights’, including the crash of a German fighter-bomber that was heading straight for Parham House. In a fortunate turn of events, the pilot managed to turn the plane and headed back to the Downs to crash-land. On another occasion, Ron and a couple of friends witnessed a Messerschmitt 110 crash-land about 500 yards away and managed to spend some time talking to the pilot before soldiers arrived to carry him away.
Mr and Mrs Pearson and their family went to great efforts to introduce new and exciting pastimes for the children to enjoy throughout their stay, whether it was bedtime stories by the fireside, chestnut roasting, listening to call of the nightingale or learning to grow vegetables in Parham’s Walled Garden. This was one of Ron’s favourite activities, learning to grow potatoes and carrots with the child sized tools that Mr Pearson had provided, although admits they would often dig up the plants to check whether or not they were growing.
Ron still remembers the delight of their first Christmas morning at Parham, when they each received a pair of slippers and a dressing gown. Most had never before seen or owned a dressing gown, and were so thrilled that they wore them for the whole of Christmas Day and for weeks afterwards. As a way of saying thank you to Mr and Mrs Pearson for their kindness, the children (with the help of their teachers and Veronica) created a handmade rug featuring two charming black cats. This rug is now proudly displayed in the “Parham and the Pearsons” permanent exhibition in the Ship Room, off the Long Gallery, along with a tapestry stool that was also made by the evacuees as a further thank you gift.
Ron said: “My time spent at Parham had a tremendous influence on me. Not only did I develop a life-long love of gardening and nature, but also a deep respect for other people. For me, the loving guidance and care I received from both Miss Veronica and my teacher had a continuing effect on my approach to life. There have been many occasions, particularly during an episode in the army, when I would remember what Miss Veronica had instilled in me all those years ago – how I should look after others before myself.”
Following the war, Ron would often reminisce about his time at Parham and the lasting impact on his life, and so his wife Beryl suggested that they write a record of his treasured memories. But For the Sake of a Tiny Wasp: The Story of Ron Callon by Beryl Callon is now available to purchase from Parham’s Gift Shop.
Visitors to Parham House can also discover a wonderful display of evacuee memorabilia including the Christmas cards that the children sent home to their families during their stay at Parham.