Wrest Park at War
Auberon Herbert, 9th Baron Lucas, known always as Bron, offered his country house – Wrest Park – for use as a hospital during the First World War in August 1914. Wrest was used first as a convalescent home before being transformed into a base hospital that November. This account of the hospital is based on the family scrapbooks that Bron’s sister, Nan, compiled in the 1930s.
Bron and Nan Herbert
Bron’s resourceful and fiercely independent sister, Nan Herbert was responsible for setting up and running the hospital. After training at the Metropolitan Hospital in London, she took up the position of Matron in February 1915. Under her energetic leadership Wrest Park became recognised as one of the best-run country house hospitals.
No one had a matron in view, nobody could find one; so finally it was settled I was to step into the post experimentally, and retain it subject to the approval of the medical staff. My dream that night of a huge wave with crest breaking mountains high over my head, expressed my feelings.
– Nan Herbert’s diary, February 1915
In total, 1,600 patients passed through Wrest Park Hospital. Most men stayed only for a few weeks before moving on to convalesce. Activities were an important part of daily life to keep up morale. These included amateur dramatics, cricket matches, fishing, and billiards competitions.
Paddy dressed in a tabard of the de Grey coat of arms, danced Irish jigs in a corner, and Whalley in a very décolleté dress with bulging front, pursued Dr Beauchamp to ask him in ringing whispers ‘about the baby’.
– Nan Herbert’s diary, September 1914
Wrest Park’s life as a hospital came to an abrupt end on 14 September 1916 when the mansion was badly damaged by fire. All 156 patients were safely evacuated, but the damage was so serious that it was not practical for the hospital to be reopened.
In A Ward the patients, with great speed but with no sense of flurry, were rolled out in their beds on to the Terrace and from there into the garden. Except for the pale anxious faces one would hardly have known that anything out of the ordinary was happening.
– Nan Herbert’s recollections of the fire, September 1916
- The exhibition Wrest Park at War is on display until Autumn 2018
- Find out more about the history of Wrest Park
- Read about Christmas during the First World War at Wrest Park
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