MANY families will have vowed to find out more about their relatives in the new year by digging into the past.

And a trip to Essex Record Office would be a good place to start.

Based in Chelmsford and run by Essex County Council, it houses thousands of documents, images and information which can be accessed by the public.

These include artefacts from both world wars such as correspondence sent by First World War nurse Kate Luard.

It reveals her contribution to helping the injured and dying did not begin with the First World War.

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

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.

Kate worked on the Western Front until December 1918 in field hospitals, 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 letters during the Great War, including those pictured here 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 treated but also asked for things to be sent to her.

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

Kate remained on the Western Front throughout the war, only returning home in order to look after her father when he was unwell.

She worked in nursing for the rest of her life, including as a matron at a private school for boys.

Kate remained in Essex, eventually living in Wickham Bishops with two of her sisters.

As well as her diary and letters, she also wrote a book 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.

The sisters set up on one of the first nursing schools, Ivy Chimneys, but none of them ever married.

Kate was just one of around 10,000 volunteers for the Queen Alexandra Imperial Nursing Service Reserve.