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Mystery First World War nurse identified after granddaughter spots photos on TV

English Heritage

By Ted Hennessey, PA

A mystery nurse who cared for injured soldiers in Bedfordshire during the First World War has been identified after her granddaughter in Canada recognised pictures shown on Antiques Roadshow.

Carol Jephson was left “surprised” when the BBC show displayed a photograph of her grandmother, Olive Buller, at Wrest Park in Silsoe, the first wartime country house hospital.

No formal records exist of hundreds of the nurses at Wrest Park after a fire at the country estate in 1916, and many of their identities had been shrouded in mystery.

English Heritage put a call out in 2018 along with a colourised selection of photographs in the hope relatives might come forward.

After Ms Jephson approached the charity to identify her grandmother, researchers were able find out the names of other nurses during the period.

Ms Jephson 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.”

Ms Jephson was also in possession of her grandmother’s autograph book, in which soldiers have recorded details of their unit, wounds and personal messages of gratitude.

One soldier with heart trouble wrote Ms Buller a short poem on November 9 1915, describing her as being “as sweet as sugar”.

Ms Jephson also shared photographs from her grandmother’s collection, with images of soldiers being unloaded from an ambulance, mattresses left to air over the terrace railings and one of the doctors playing cards with the servicemen.

Wrest Park was offered by its owner Auberon Herbert, the 9th Baron Lucas, directly to Winston Churchill as a place to treat wounded service personnel.

By September 7 1914, it was transformed into a convalescent hospital, ready to welcome its first patients.

Andrew Hann, a historian at English Heritage, 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.”

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