Sunday 11th November 2018 saw the UK mark Remembrance Day and the hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day. What a fitting time for us to share the story of Constance Luckes who served in the WRAF during WWII. Constance’s story was uncovered during the start of the construction of The Yealm. Read more about her story…
In every old building renovation project, there’s the promise of uncovering the history, not only of the building itself, but of the people who lived there in past generations. And as work started on The Yealm development, it wasn’t long before the old hotel brought to light a hidden treasure of its own.
For over 100 years, as families and guests passed through the late-Victorian halls of the River Yealm Hotel, each left with memories and mementoes of a time and place. But sometimes things get left behind. Hidden away and overlooked as time passes, only to be rediscovered, to disclose an otherwise forgotten past.
As redevelopment work started on the old hotel building in 2017, it would be the discovery of an old suitcase hidden in the attic that revealed a treasure trove of keepsakes. Inside, among old papers and nick-nacks, were some personal effects of someone who had been connected with the hotel in some way, but who was it?
Amid the items was a gold watch, a stamp album, a bible, and an autograph book, together with a handful of photos offering clues as to the owners identity. Property developer for The Yealm, Simon Friend, contacted Mark Wilson, whose parents, Doxie and Thatch, owned and ran the hotel until 1975, to see if he could identify the owner.
It wasn’t long before Mark made the connection and confirmed the possessions were those of Constance Luckes. As it turned it out, Constance had more than a passing connection with the hotel, becoming a much-loved family member.
Serving in the WRAF during WWII, Constance was fiancée to John, a fellow serviceman. Sadly, John never returned from duty, but one of the photos he kept with him always – a portrait of Constance in uniform – bore a poignant, handwritten message on the reverse, reading: “If anything should happen to me, will the finder of this photo please return it to Miss Constance Luckes”.
Constance never married, and after the war, found her way to the hotel to become a devoted nanny to Mark and brother, Robert. After the brothers grew up, ‘Nan’ stayed on as housekeeper for many years, and was always a part of the family until her death in 2013.
After contacting Constance’s nieces, Gen Hutson and Gill George, Mark passed her belongings over to them for posterity. More recently, Simon took time out from The Yealm development to visit them both in person with his son, Euan, who found the suitcase.
On being reunited with their Aunt’s belongings, Gen said “We’re so glad to find a picture of Aunty’s fiancé in among the photos. She didn’t talk about him much, so it’s lovely to put a face to his name at last. We’ll treasure her bits and pieces always, so thank you again”.
After hearing their stories, remembering family holidays to Clacton-on-Sea, and time spent with Aunty, Mark, and Robert, it’s clear Gen and Gill have many fond memories of Aunty Connie. And as the old hotel had been a place that Constance loved, they were pleased the building would remain, creating new memories for generations to come.