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First World War nurse who cared for injured soldiers at a country house hospital identified

A nurse who was photographed working at a country house hospital during the First World War is finally being given the recognition she deserves after she was identified following an appeal on Antiques Roadshow.

Colourised photographs of nurses at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, were first broadcast on a 2018 episode as part of an appeal by English Heritage, which now looks after the property, in the hope someone would be able to identify the women. 

Although it was not known at the time, among them was Olive Buller, who tended to soldiers at Wrest Park before its closure as a result of a fire in September 1916.

Earlier this year, Olive was finally spotted by her granddaughter Carol Jephson who was watching from her home in Canada and recognised her relative ‘right away’. It is thought Carol was watching a repeat of Antiques Roadshow.   

Olive Buller (left) cared for injured soldiers at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, at a country house convalescent hospital during the First World War. She was identified following an Antiques Roadshow appeal 

Carol Jephson’s identification of her grandmother, Nurse Olive Buller (far left), has helped English Heritage’s historians bring the names of several other nurses to light

Wrest Park (pictured) was offered directly to Winston Churchill as a place to treat wounded servicemen before it was transformed into a convalescent hospital in 1914

Wrest Park (pictured) was offered directly to Winston Churchill as a place to treat wounded servicemen before it was transformed into a convalescent hospital in 1914

Carol said: ‘I feel very fortunate indeed to have been watching Antiques Roadshow at exactly the right moment. 

‘During their discussion about the history of Wrest Park, several photos of First World War nurses were shown and I was very surprised to see a photo of my grandmother, Olive Buller. 

‘I have the same photo of her so I recognised her right away. It is wonderful that my grandmother’s collection will become part of the archive and it is especially lovely that now several other nurses will be recognised as well.’ 

Carol has been able to share personal items belonging to Olive, including her autograph book.

Carol has also shared photographs from her grandmother's collection which show a more informal side to the hospital with images of soldiers being unloaded from an ambulance (above)

Carol has also shared photographs from her grandmother’s collection which show a more informal side to the hospital with images of soldiers being unloaded from an ambulance (above)

Another image featured in Carol's own collection showed one of the hospital's doctors playing cards with some of the men being treated at the time

Another image featured in Carol’s own collection showed one of the hospital’s doctors playing cards with some of the men being treated at the time

In the book, the soldiers recorded details of their unit, wounds and personal messages for Nurse Buller – some humorous and others more poignant. 

Carol has also shared photographs from her grandmother’s collection which show a more informal side to the hospital with images of soldiers being unloaded from an ambulance, mattresses left to air over the terrace railings, the copper for heating water in the louse house and one of the doctors playing cards with the men. 

The discovery also led to the identification of other wartime nurses.  

No formal records existed due to the unofficial way the facility was established and left many of the nurses’ identities shrouded in mystery. 

Andrew Hann, English Heritage Lead Properties Historian, said: ‘These women were the backbone of the hospital, and a crucial part 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. 

Olive kept an autograph book during her time at Wrest Park, in which, the soldiers recorded details of their unit, wounds and personal messages for Nurse Buller - some humorous and others more poignant

Olive kept an autograph book during her time at Wrest Park, in which, the soldiers recorded details of their unit, wounds and personal messages for Nurse Buller – some humorous and others more poignant

Nurse Olive Buller’s Autograph Book Extracts 

November 9, 1915

Solider from 128th Field. Co. Royal Engineers entered Wrest Park Hospital with heart trouble:  

There was a young nurse the name of Buller, 

Whose ways were as sweet as sugar.

Her presence in the wards was a pleasure, 

During her few minutes of leisure.

January 28, 1916

From Corporal GRC Walker, 2nd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry:  

Tho we wander far from home

We forget it never

And deep within our loyal hearts

Wrest Park will live forever.

‘Being able to identify Nurse Olive Buller and others included in her photographs help us better understand life at Wrest Park during the First World War. 

‘It’s incredible that we’ve found these answers all the way across the Atlantic and we’re grateful to Carol for coming forward.’

Wrest Park was owned by Auberon Herbert, the 9th Baron Lucas, as the war broke out. 

He offered the manor directly to Winston Churchill as a place to treat wounded servicemen and it was transformed into a convalescent hospital by September 7, 1914.

It then functioned as an auxiliary hospital for two years before being forced to close after a fire on September 14, 1916. 

If you recognise any of the nurses in the photographs, please email Wrest Park’s Volunteer History Team: [email protected] 


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