Public urged to help trace ‘forgotten’ nurses at wartime country house hospital

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Rare photographs from the First World War’s first country house hospital have been converted to colour to help identify the “forgotten” nurses who served there.

English Heritage is calling on the public to help spot their ancestors in the images taken at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, thought to be the first stately home set up as a convalescent home after the outbreak of war.

Rare photographs from the First World War's first country house hospital, Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, have been converted to colour to help identify the "forgotten" nurses who served there.  PIC: PA

Rare photographs from the First World War's first country house hospital, Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, have been converted to colour to help identify the "forgotten" nurses who served there. PIC: PA

To help fully identify the women who volunteered to take care of soldiers at the house, which is cared for by English Heritage, the original black and white images have been transformed into colour pictures for the first time.

No formal records exist of many of the nurses who served there during the war because of the unofficial way in which it became a hospital and the way in which it closed, the heritage charity said.

It was offered by owner Auberon Herbert, 9th Baron Lucas, directly to Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, on the day after war was declared, as a place to treat wounded servicemen.

A month later, on September 7 1914, it was ready to receive its first patients and it functioned as an auxiliary hospital for two years before it was forced to close after a fire on September 14 1916.

Rare photographs from the First World War's first country house hospital, Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, have been converted to colour to help identify the "forgotten" nurses who served there.  PIC: PA

Rare photographs from the First World War's first country house hospital, Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, have been converted to colour to help identify the "forgotten" nurses who served there. PIC: PA

While volunteer historians have researched the history of the property as a military hospital, “they’ve hit a brick wall” in finding out more about the staff who worked there, English Heritage said.

The charity’s lead properties historian Andrew Hann said: “These women were the backbone of the hospital, and indeed 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.

“They worked tirelessly and deserve to be known as individuals, just as the soldiers they cared for do.

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

Rare photographs from the First World War's first country house hospital, Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, have been converted to colour to help identify the "forgotten" nurses who served there.  PIC: PA

Rare photographs from the First World War's first country house hospital, Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, have been converted to colour to help identify the "forgotten" nurses who served there. PIC: PA

He added: “It would be wonderful if the public could help us identify these forgotten women.”

The 18th-century French chateau-style mansion was transformed into a place for wounded soldiers to recuperate before returning to front-line duty.

But as casualties on the Western Front began to mount it was soon transformed into a much-needed base hospital.

Chandeliers were bagged up, furniture cleared, gilded panelling moved over and temporary electric lighting installed, and grand rooms were converted to A ward for the most serious cases, B ward and C ward, as well as housing X-ray equipment and an operating theatre.

Rare photographs from the First World War's first country house hospital, Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, have been converted to colour to help identify the "forgotten" nurses who served there.  PIC: PA

Rare photographs from the First World War's first country house hospital, Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, have been converted to colour to help identify the "forgotten" nurses who served there. PIC: PA

Nurses at Wrest Park were overseen by the baron’s sister Nan Herbert, working long and taxing shifts cleaning wards and making beds, changing wound dressings and tending to injured soldiers.

There were up to 24 nurses at any one time in the house, caring for between around 150 and 200 patients.

The photographs of the nurses were transformed by digital colourist Marina Amaral, who said: “Humans live in colour, and this helps us see people from a more personal perspective - they are no longer removed from reality, but real people with lives and purpose.

“These women did remarkable jobs during the First World War and if my coloured images help people recognise their family members then that would be an amazing outcome.”