IN 2015, Jean Longstaff, from Pity Me, near Durham, had just retired as a librarian at Crown Street Library in Darlington. With a naturally inquiring mind and excellent research skills, she was keen to put her free time to good use.

Durham at War was just the kind of project she was looking for.

Launched on September 10, 2014 - the 100th anniversary of the day Durham Light Infantry (DLI) soldiers arrived in France - Durham at War is an interactive website mapping the experiences of people in the North-East during the First World War.

Durham County Council was awarded £475,100 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to set up the site, working in partnership with Durham County Record Office, the DLI Collection and the archaeology team.

But it was the 250 volunteers who supported the project that ensured it was a success.

They have amassed thousands of pages of detailed research, celebrating the region’s war heroes and revealing the impact of the conflict on those left behind. There are stories that will make readers laugh and cry. There are love stories, tragedies and tales demonstrating the resilience of North-East communities. The result is a collaborative map where people can search through extensive documents and images, as well as upload their own findings.

And while the active part of the project will come to an end next month, its legacy will continue, with the website remaining online as a valuable resource until at least 2025.

For Jean, Durham at War is a source of great pride. As part of the project, she researched many of the 2,500 North-East men who emigrated to Canada but returned to Europe to fight with the allies.

“I’d never done much research on the First World War before and it wasn’t a period of history I knew that much about or was particularly interested in,” she explains. “However, it didn’t take long for me to become totally immersed. I was determined to find out as much as I could about these men who had travelled to Canada with or without their families but fought for their old homeland when war broke out.

“It’s hard to imagine my life without the Durham at War project. It’s been so enriching and I’ve made new friends, here and in Canada. I now feel I know a lot more about the First World War and it makes me happy to be able to share my findings on the website.”

For fellow volunteer Fiona Johnson, the project has boosted her confidence and strengthened her connection to the North-East.

Originally from Sheffield, Fiona moved to Durham to study psychology at Durham University. She loved the area so much she decided to settle here after finishing her degree, and volunteers at Durham County Record Office two or three days per week.

Fiona has carried out a wealth of research for the war project, from studying the role of women at home and on the front, to discovering the stories of prisoners of war who escaped from camps in County Durham.

“This has been a fantastic experience for me,” she says. “I’ve learnt so much about so many different topics and my confidence has grown. I’ve really enjoyed using and improving the research skills I developed at university and working alongside the team at the record office, who have been so encouraging.

“I’m not from Durham and this has helped me feel more connected to the area. It certainly feels like home now.”

To find out more about Durham at War, visit