THIS year marks the anniversary of the end of the Great War.

There will be thousands of people across Essex with relatives who played their part in the conflict, which spanned four years and cost countless lives.

Among them was Sister Katherine Evelyn Luard. Kate, as she was known, was born in Aveley, in Thurrock, in 1872, the tenth of 13 children and the daughter of a vicar.

She grew up living in Aveley Vicarage, and then later moved to Birch Rectory near Colchester.

Kate was aged 42 when the First World War broke out, but she headed straight to France, arriving there on August 20 1914, just 16 days after war was declared.

She had previously served as a nurse in the Boer War in South Africa in 1900 to 1902.

Her story has already formed the basis of an exhibition and advice service launched two years ago by the Essex Record Office in a bit to help give families the chance to find out more about their wartime links.

Kate’s letters and photographs also appeared in its Essex at War exhibition which toured the county in 2016.


Letters sent to Kate by bereaved relatives of men she had nursed are now stored at Essex Record Office

And her contribution to helping the injured and dying did not begin with the first World War.

She had already served as nurse in the Boer War carrying out hospital work in 1902, the year that particular conflict.

Historians say she probably served alongside Florence Nightingale although she did not mention this in letters home to her family.

These letters, which were preserved for future generations, were also sent home from France during the First World War and feature drawings as well as photographs of herself and some of the men she looked after.

Sister Katherine Evelyn Luard volunteered on the Western Front throughout the entire war.

She came from a military background and many of her relatives, including generals and majors, are buried at a cemetery in Witham Cemetery.

Kate worked on the Western Front until December 1918 in field hospital, clearing stations and on the ambulance trains and was awarded a Royal Red Cross and bar for her exceptional service in military nursing.

As well as sending and receiving thousands of letter during the great War, many of which including those pictured are kept at Essex Record Office in Chelmsford, she also kept a diary.

A copy of this is also kept at the Record Office.

In the letters she speaks about the men she treats but also asked for things to be sent to her too.

In one she writes from the Carisbrook, a hospital ship, and describes transferring sick and wounded soldiers from the hospital train she was stationed with at the time.


A military hospital ward in which Kate worked during the First World War

Kate remained on the Western Front throughout the war, only returning home on order to looker after her father because he was not very well.

She remained in nursing, though, for the rest of her life, including as a matron at a boys private school but stayed in Essex, eventually living in Wickham Bishops with two of her sisters.

As well as her diary and letters Kate also wrote a books about her experiences which was published anonymously in 1930.

Her wider family is also well known as her father the Rev Bixby Garnham Luard, went on to become Canon of Chelmsford as did her brother.

None of the sisters ever married but they did go on to set up on one of the first nursing schools, Ivy Chimneys.

Colchester Historian Heather Johnson says anyone wanting to learn moree about the experiences of Queen Alexandra Imperial Nursing Service Reserve, who Kate volunteered for, during the First World War will be hugely enlightened by the Birch woman’s writings.

Tere were about 10,000 regular and reserve QAs, as they were known serving in countries such as France, India, East Africa, Italy, Palestine at that time.

She explains: “All such writings are a valuable insight into that time and an excellent source for research.

“In fact, the whole of her Luard family, close and extended, are a fine example of just how families ‘pulled together’ and served Great Britain during the First World War – ‘at Home’ and abroad.

“Like every family in the land, the Luard men-folk served the country.

“One brother, Frank William, died whilst serving in Gallipoli in 1915.

“Frank’s widow Eloine served as a Quartermaster at the ‘Gostwycke’ V.A.D Hospital in Cambridge Road, Colchester.

“Their daughter Betty also worked at ‘Gostwycke’, alongside a Witham cousin, Christobel Chauney Luard – both were V.A.D. nurses there” adds Heather.

She explains other Witham cousins of Kate, Alice, Edith Gertrude and Lilian, all worked at the Red Cross Hospital which was in Witham.

“The Luard family knew, in so many ways, how important it was to play your part. It didn’t matter how small or large a part that was – it was all helping the war effort.

  • We would love to hear about your own family’s contribution to the First World War. To share your memories, contact us on 01206 508186.