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Thu 11 Nov 2021
The Chichester Constable Family at War
Philippa Wood // Curator
Curator Philippa Wood revisits a past exhibition for Remembrance Day, looking at what war brought to Burton Constable.

Though sheltered in the quiet countryside of Holderness, Burton Constable and the family who have lived here saw their fair share of action and anxiety through the First and Second World Wars. 

Read on for more information on the roles of the Chichester Constable family in both military and nursing roles to the much closer danger from the bombing of Hull and damage to Burton Constable itself by stray bombs. Read about the evacuees who were sheltered from the bombing on the estate properties and the billeting of members of the British Army in the Hall and Parkland.

War on the scale of the Great Wars of the early 20th Century leaves very little untouched - and still has an impact on people and families today.

Lest we forget.

The Mental Impact of the War



 Cecil's capture as a Prisoner of War came early in the First World War, resulting in him spending four and a half years in incarceration. He saw it as his duty as an Officer to be a difficult prisoner and to attempt escape.

‘It is reported that on one occasion he threw an ashtray at a German Officer.  This act resulted in the order for his execution by firing squad.  At the due hour he refused a blindfold, and unlike a Russian Officer, who broke down in tears before he was executed, Uncle Cecil took out an apple from his top pocket, smiled at the firing squad, and ate it.  I think that the German Officer was so impressed with his cool that the death sentence was commuted to solitary confinement, where he remained for eighteen months until the end of the war. 

Raleigh went  to London with his wife Gladys to bring Cecil home at the end of the war, searching the warehouse where the returning soldiers were being sheltered.

They looked in vain until only one old man was left, huddled in a corner in a greatcoat, and who called out “Hello Raleigh”.  It was Cecil and he was virtually unrecognisable on account of the hardships he had endured in the prison camps.

Cecil came home, but was not the same. His wartime experiences had left a scar, and he became something of a recluse. He spent a great deal of time alone in the North Tower here, researching the family's history and sorting their archives. When World War Two broke out, however, he returned to the front lines to serve his country.


The family could not understand Basil's behaviour following the war. His appearance had been significantly altered by the injuries caused by shrapnel, and he flitted between different amusements to try to take his mind off his wartime experiences. As these pastimes included gaming, and as he left his wife, he became the family's 'black sheep' - despite the fact that much of his behaviour was triggered by the shock of his wartime experiences.

Although Raleigh Chichester Constable’s Army career had ended abruptly in 1923 when he was asked to return to help manage the estate, he kept a keen eye on the situation (as well as starting a cricket pitch on the West side of the Hall - unfortunately bombed in World War Two!)

Raleigh and Gladys made a home at the family's nearby dower house. However, when World War Two  broke out Raleigh re-enlisted at the age of 49. The management of the estate was left to 'Old Harry' Caley, then a trusted tenant and landowner. "The Estate did not return to it's status quo until 1945 Raleigh came back from the War.

During World War Two Raleigh commanded a brigade, seeing action in North Africa till 1943 when he was brought back to the Home Front.  His role saw him tour widely across the battlefields; when the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk, Raleigh was among their number. 

‘There is one particular tale of him directing the evacuation whilst he was standing in a boat.  He lost his balance and fell into the sea and because he was wearing boots they filled with water and he almost drowned, but luckily someone pulled him to safety." 

Raleigh's brother Cecil had likewise gone back into the Army during World War 2. His experiences as a Prisoner of War for three and a half years during the World War One caused him to vow that if he was ever unfortunate enough to be involved in another war he would never be taken prisoner again. He fought courageously but kept to his vow, defending the retreat of his troops with a Bren gun until killed in action. 



Despite many children being evacuated here for safety, one child was very much an exception. Despite calling the Hall home, John Chichester-Constable was evacuated elsewhere due to his mother Gadys's fears that the Luftwaffe had earmarked their nearby home as a target.

Gladys was not entirely without cause for concern; the Orangery and the Long Gallery windows were badly damaged by a bomb that fell in the West Park during the War. This was largely due to the bombers dropping their payload in panic as fighters from the RAF were closing in, however! The Orangery was not restored until after Burton Constable received a government grant in 1965.

The Last Military Chichester-Constable

John Chichester-Constable himself left Eton in 1944/45 feeling very patriotic. The war was still on, and he decided to join the Army - following in his father's footsteps in the Rifle Brigade. In 1945 he was stationed in Germany, with some time stationed at Belsen concentration camp. The War soon ended, however, and peace-time Army work saw long periods of training - both in military and mechanical terms, and in fitness and driving! These opportunities allowed John to train in running (achieving Olympic standards) and driving (seeing him take part in TT racing). In time, however, he returned to Burton Constable to begin learning the management of the family's Estate and their efforts to preserve Burton Constable Hall itself.