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First world war: can you help solve the mystery of the nurses of Wrest Park?

English Heritage wants to hear from anyone who recognises a nurse forebear in these newly colourised photographs

English Heritage wants to hear from anyone who recognises a nurse forebear in these newly colourised photographs

Photographs of nurses in the first world war have been colourised in a bid to help discover the subjects' identities.

The pictures were taken between 1914-16 at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, when the country house was used as a military hospital.

As casualties from the Western Front mounted, the house was turned into a three-ward auxiliary hospital overseen by Nan Herbert, sister of the owner Auberon Herbert, Baron Lucas.

Staff records are scant, so researchers from English Heritage are hoping people will recognise relatives among the collection.

Around 24 nurses at any one time cared for a total of 1,600 soldiers in the two years before fire destroyed the hospital on 14 September 1916.

‘Evening concerts were in demand, especially as extra beer was served’

Most of what is known about life at Wrest Park comes from Nan's diary, which she wrote while she was matron there.

In one entry, she writes: ‘Summers, the little cockney from the London Hospital unearthed the old costume box, and from that time, evening concerts were in steady demand, especially as extra beer was served.

‘We nurses sat on the stairs, the convalescents in the hall singing, reciting and dancing’.

‘These women were the backbone of the hospital and the war effort… they treated the wounded and comforted those soldiers traumatised by war’

Andrew Hann, historian, English Heritage

Despite the lack of records, researchers have established details of several nurses, including nurse probationer Nathalie Ridley, the daughter of Russian ambassador Count Alexander Benckendorff.

English Heritage's lead properties historian Andrew Hann said: ‘These women were the backbone of the hospital, and indeed of the war effort, providing much needed treatment to the wounded, but also acting as a comfort to those soldiers traumatised by the horrors of war.

‘Being able to identify these nurses and find out more about them would help us better understand life at Wrest Park during the war.’

The photographs will be on display at Wrest Park until the end of the month.

Anyone who recognises any of the nurses in the photographs can email wresthistoryvolunteers@english-heritage.org.uk


Further information

Nursing at Wrest Park during WW1


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