Colouriser hopes to jog memories of forgotten first world war nurses

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English Heritage wants people to spot their ancestors in enhanced pictures of hospital

Colourised photo of nurses on the terrace at Wrest Park in 1915. Photograph: London Metropolitan Archives/Roy/PA

English Heritage has appealed for public help to trace the identities of more than 100 nurses from the first world war who have fallen through the gaps of history but deserve recognition as “the backbone of the war effort”.

The charity has colourised rarely seen archive photos in the hope that people may be able to spot their ancestors. All the nurses worked in Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, England’s first wartime country-house hospital.

Andrew Hann, a historian at English Heritage, said a lot of excellent research had been done by volunteers about Wrest Park’s history as a military hospital. But they had hit a brick wall when it came to the staff.

Digital colourist Marina Amaral brought the black and white photographs to life.

“These women were the backbone of the hospital, and indeed 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,” said Hann. “They worked tirelessly and deserve to be known as individuals, just as the soldiers they cared for do.”

He said identifying the nurses would help the team better understand life at Wrest Park during the war.

“We are interested in the human stories that are hinted at from the photographic evidence we have. Women played a vital role in supporting the war effort at home, not least as auxiliary nurses in country-house hospitals such as Wrest Park, and we are keen to celebrate their efforts and achievements,” he said.

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

Wrest Park was offered to the nation by its owner, Auberon Herbert, the ninth Baron Lucas, as a place to treat wounded servicemen. It functioned as an auxiliary hospital for two years until it was forced to close in 1916 after a fire.

Historians at Wrest Park say the plain caps worn by these nurses distinguish them as volunteers. Photograph: English Heritage/PA

Marina Amaral, the digital colourist involved in the project, said: “To see images in colour is to see the real people behind the photographs.

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