Britain’s first country house hospital for First World War veterans, Wrest Park, is to commemorate both world wars by recreating the sights and sounds of the war era
The first British First World War soldiers’ country hospital, Wrest Park, in Bedfordshire, will commemorate the anniversaries of the First and Second World Wars over the coming May Bank Holiday weekend (25-26 May).
Re-enactors, displays and interactive activities will all be on show to tell the story of what life was like during the wars, both on the frontline and at home.
Visitors will be able to scramble into a replica biplane and relive the deeds of Auberon Herbert, 9th Baron Lucas, the former owner of Wrest Park who served as a fighter pilot in the First World War and was sadly killed in 1916. There will also be the option of visiting the First World War and Second World War living history encampments, and watch performances, which will entertain the many troops and spies that will mingle with visitors.
Wrest Park was the first country house to take in convalescing soldiers during the First World War before then becoming a hospital. On 8 September 1914 the Manchester Courier reported, “A party of 66 British soldiers […] left a London hospital yesterday afternoon bound for a convalescent home. They will be cared for at Wrest, the mansion near Luton, which Lord Lucas has placed at the disposal of the War Office. In all probability they will be the first batch to face the enemy for a second time during the war.”
The Wrest Park Volunteer History Research Team will be present at the event to tell the story of how the house and grounds were put to use during the First World War, complete with accounts of the people who were sent there or worked there. They will give a visual account of how the rooms would have looked during wartime, and also detail JM Barrie’s association with Wrest Park.
In total, 1,600 men passed through the hospital’s wards and by 1916 it had a reputation as the best country house hospital. Among the staff who worked there was housekeeper Hannah Mackenzie, who features in Tessa Boase’s new book The Housekeeper’s Tale. Tessa will be at the event on Sunday 25 May at 2pm to talk about the remarkable Ms Mackenzie and her maverick mistress Nan Herbert, and the extraordinary pressures of running a Great War country house hospital.
Jenny Mayer, general manager at Wrest Park, said: “We’re delighted to be bringing back this event to Wrest Park in this significant year. Not only is it the First World War centenary year, where we can explore Wrest Park’s significance, but it is also the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and we have some exciting plans. It should be a fantastic event as there really is something for everyone and our re-enactments in particular are set to be especially explosive.”
Wrest at War takes place at Wrest Park on Sunday 25 and Monday 26 May, 10am to 6pm. For tickets visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/events, or call 0870 333 1183.
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