Colour brings wartime faces back to life

Nurses and convalescents on the terrace steps at Wrest Park, Christmas 1914.
Nurses and convalescents on the terrace steps at Wrest Park, Christmas 1914.
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They are ghosts from a century ago, but seen in colour for the first time, their faces are alive once more.

No-one knows the names of the nurses in starched blue nor the soldiers in khaki who passed through the first country house hospital of the First World War, but researchers hope the newly converted images may strike a chord with their descendants.

They were taken at Wrest Park, an 18th-century French chateau-style mansion in Bedfordshire, which was handed by its owner, Auberon Herbert, 9th Baron Lucas, to Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, on the day after war was declared.

No formal records exist for the property, and while volunteer historians have researched its history as a military hospital, they have “hit a brick wall”, said English Heritage.

The charity’s properties historian Andrew Hann said the nurses had been “the backbone of the hospital”, adding: “They worked tirelessly and deserve to be known as individuals, just as the soldiers they cared for do.

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

Wrest Park was initially a convalescent unit, but as casualties on the Western Front began to mount it was transformed into a base hospital. Chandeliers were bagged up, gilded panelling moved aside and grand rooms converted to wards.

Photographic colourist Marina Amaral said: “Humans live in colour, and this helps us see people from a more personal perspective – they are real people with lives and purpose.”