First World War Nurse Identified

  • Granddaughter in Canada recognises photograph whilst watching BBC show
  • More photographs of nurses and rare autograph book come to light 


Olive Buller on left

A First World War nurse who cared for injured soldiers at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, the first wartime country house hospital, has been identified for the first time, English Heritage announced today (24 November). Researchers at the charity were contacted by Canadian Carol Jephson who recognised her grandmother Olive Buller in photographs of the hospital shown on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. English Heritage had put a call out in 2018 and colourised a selection of photographs in the hope that relatives of the nurses might come forward.

From cleaning the wards and making beds, to changing wound dressings and tending to injured soldiers, the nurses at Wrest Park were hugely important to the daily running of the hospital. However in part as a result of the un-official way it was established and not helped by the unfortunate way it closed (after a fire in 1916), no formal records exist of many of the hundred plus nurses who answered the call to serve at Wrest Park and many of the identities of these remarkable women have been shrouded in mystery.

Carol Jephson's identification of her grandmother, Nurse Olive Buller, has not only helped English Heritage's historians discover another piece of the puzzle in the stories of these women, but has also brought the names of many other nurses to light. Carol is in possession of Olive’s autograph book which, although common for nurses to keep in this period, is an extremely rare survival – only two other autograph books owned by nurses at Wrest Park have been located. Within this book, the soldiers have 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 an interesting and 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.

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. 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."

Olive Buller on far left

Carol Jephson, granddaughter of Nurse Olive Buller, 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 recognized 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 recognized as well."

Offered by its owner Auberon Herbert, the 9th Baron Lucas, directly to Winston Churchill as a place to treat wounded servicemen, by 7th September 1914 Wrest Park was transformed into a convalescent hospital, ready to welcome its first patients. It then functioned as an auxiliary hospital for two years before being forced to close after a fire on 14th September 1916.

Nurse Olive Buller’s Autograph Book Extracts

9 November 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.

28 January 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.

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

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