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The inspiring tale of Essex-born WW1 nurse

Kate Luard was one the few women on the frontline treating thousands of casualties. Photo:

Kate Luard, from Birch in Colchester, offered her skills to the Army Nursing Service and served for two years in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

Within days of the First World War starting in 1914, she put her hand up again to work near the front line in France.

It was world's away from her life in Essex, where she was one of 13 children and daughter of the local vicar.

During the war, she sent hundreds of letters to her relatives and to the families of soldiers who would not be returning home. Today, these letters offer an incredible insight into the true horror of the First World War.

One of the most powerful letters was one Kate wrote home on the eve of the Armistice:

"Is this really the last night our planes will go over dropping destruction into hundreds of Germans?

"It is quite impossible for a war-soaked brain like mine to think in terms of peace; war has come to be natural - peace unnatural."

– Kate Luard, November 10th 1914
  • Click to watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Malcolm Robertson

Much of her correspondence from the war is kept at the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford.

On Saturday 10 November, in the build-up to the centenary of the end of the war, there is a chance for the public to see some of those letters at a special remembrance event.

"I can't imagine how she got threw some of the experiences that she goes through.

"She writes very matter-of-factly about some of the horrendous things they're experiencing.

"When there’s stretchers back to back all up the middle of the ward and they're doing 20 hour shifts and then at the end of that she's writing letters home to family members, to break the news that their loved one has died.

"Somehow she comes through all of that."

– Hannah Salisbury, Chelmsford Record Office

Kate's great nephew, Tim Luard, is delighted he got the chance to meet her shortly before she died in 1962.

For him, her letters of correspondence give a glimpse into what life must have been like for her during the Great War.

"She saw so much in four years. It must have shattered her after being brought up by a governess in rural Essex and being quite intellectual and literary but she was also very hard and she made no apologies for the fact she could be a dragon of a matron. She stood no nonsense."

– Tim Luard, Kate Luard's Great Nephew

The Record Office also keeps letters she received from grieving relatives. One from a Mrs Rigby in Portsmouth said:

Mrs Rigby was amongst a number of grieving relatives who wrote to Kate. Credit: ITV

"The news that you have sent to me has nearly broken my heart for my husband was one of the best....I must try and bear up because I have two little children to bring up and I thank God my dear husband died peacefully... but how I do wish I could have seen him or that I could have had his body."

– Mrs Rigby

Although she survived, her life was still touched by tragedy as her brother Frank was killed at Gallipoli in 1915 and her father died in 1919, shortly after she returned to England to nurse him.

She resumed her nursing career in England before retiring to the Essex village of Wickham Bishops.

She is buried in the village's churchyard, where a simple headstone reveals she was amongst a handful of people to be honoured with the Royal Red Cross and Bar.

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