Can you spot your ancestor? Charity asks for help tracing ‘forgotten’ nurses at WWI country house hospital

Nurses are pictured on the terrace at Wrest Park in 1915 (London Metropolitan Archives/Royal Sun Alliance/‘Coloured by Marina Amaral, commissioned by English Heritage/PA) Credit: PA

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 as historians "hit a brick wall" in their search.

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.

Nurse Given and Staff Sister Whyly pictured on the terrace Credit: London Metropolitan Archives/Royal Sun Alliance/coloured by Marina Amaral, commissioned by English Heritage/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.

Nurses and convalescing soldiers pictured at Christmas 1914 Credit: Private collection/coloured by Marina Amaral, commissioned by English Heritage/PA

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.

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.

Soldiers and nurses at Wrest, including Sister Ife, furthest left, and Nurse Cook, second from the right Credit: Private Collection/coloured by Marina Amaral, commissioned by English Heritage/PA

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.”

Nurse Phillburn was one of the many nurses who served at Wrest Park Credit: Private Collection/coloured by Marina Amaral, commissioned by English Heritage/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.

Wrest Park was offered as a place to treat wounded servicemen as soon as war was declared Credit: English Heritage/PA

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.

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.

Wrest Park Hospital included an operating theatre housed in a first-floor bedroom Credit: Private Collection/coloured by Marina Amaral, commissioned by English Heritage/PA

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.

Sister Warner is pictured taking medicines from the dispensary Credit: Private Collection/coloured by Marina Amaral, commissioned by English Heritage/PA

“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.”

If you recognise any of the nurses in the photographs, you can contact Wrest Park’s Volunteer History Team on