Love story that began in country house hospital during First World War is revealed at Wrest Park
When Private Daniel MacKinnon MacLean, of the 1st Battalion Royal Highlanders Regiment of Infantry (Black Watch), arrived at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire from the front line, his shattered leg had been amputated.
Amid the beautiful house and Wrest’s leafy parkland gardens, he began the slow and painful path to recuperation and the business of putting his shattered life back together. Out of this personal catastrophe came another life changing event - one that was to change the course of his life for the better.
Among the house staff caring for him was a Still Room Maid called Evelyn Annie Hughes who was working at the house with her sister Margaret. Daniel and Evelyn soon fell in love and were married at St Stephen’s, Canonbury, in Islington on September 29 1917 at the ages of 26 and 24 respectively.
Such was their love of Wrest Park, the newly-wed MacLeans had a house built in Edgware, Middlesex that they affectionately named ‘WREST’. Three children soon followed and all of them grew up knowing how special the Bedfordshire house and gardens was to their parents.
A memorial bench now sits in the grounds of Wrest Park with the inscription:
“During the Great War Wrest Park become a military hospital. Our maternal Grandparents Daniel MacKinnon MacLean and Evelyn Annie Hughes first met here at that time. They had three daughters. The eldest of which was Mavis our mum.”
A plaque to their daughter Mavis’ memory also sits alongside.
The story is one of many of love, friendship and sorrow that came out of Wrest Park during the First World War revealed in a new exhibition opening in May 2015.
It was the first country house to take in convalescing soldiers and the first to be used as both a convalescent home and then as a base hospital taking casualties directly from the front line.
The house’s owner Auberon Herbert, 8th Baron Lucas, was kept busy in London when war broke out. The task of preparing the house fell to his sister, Nan Herbert, who set to work with enthusiasm.
Today her diaries and surviving photos from the time tell the poignant story of the men and women who passed through the house, which was transformed for the duration of the Great War.
Hospital beds were acquired, nurses recruited and a feisty housekeeper, Hannah Mackenzie, appointed. It was Hannah who recruited the entire domestic staff, including the Hughes sisters.
The renowned surgeon Dr Sidney Beauchamp, a family friend, agreed to act as doctor. Another friend, JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, gave £1,000 to support the venture.
In all, 1,600 men passed through the hospital’s wards.
But apart from the logistics that went together to make Wrest Park one of the most highly regarded country house base hospitals in the country, a picture emerges of a relaxed, holiday camp-like atmosphere at Wrest during this period. The men went boating on the lakes in grounds, fished, played cricket and football, put on concerts and theatricals in the staircase hall and went on regular outings.
JM Barrie even visited regularly to organise games and entertainments for the convalescents who were given everything to help them recuperate – away from the horrors of war.
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