ONE of two poppies sent home from the First World War trenches by a North-East soldier killed in action has become the logo of a major new history website.

John Harkess wrote his initials, 1917 and the names of places where he had fought on the delicate flowers’ petals and sent them home to his beloved wife Ann in Birtley, then part of County Durham.

Remarkably, two poppies have survived the following century; and relatives have donated them to the Durham County Record Office – which has made one the symbol of its new Durham at War website, launched yesterday (Wednesday, September 10) – 100 years to the day since the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) arrived in war torn France.

Ruth Crofton, Lance-Corporal Harkess’ great-niece, remembers being shown the poppies as a child.

“They were kept in a cabinet in an envelope marked ‘poppies – open carefully’,” Mrs Crofton, who now lives in Durham City, said.

“We were allowed to look, but not touch. It was always very special.

“But my great-aunt said next to nothing about it. They had only been married two years when he was killed in March 1918. It was still very raw.

“They were given to my mother, who gave them to me. I was worried about their long-term future, so I thought the best thing would be to bring them in.

“They’re in amazing condition. They’re a symbol that creative love can continue despite such awfulness.”

The Durham at War website was launched at Durham’s County Hall by broadcaster John Grundy and can be found at

Among the stories told are those of Roland Boys Bradford and George Nicholson Bradford, the only siblings to receive the Victoria Cross during the First World War; DLI soldier Thomas Hughes, from Stockton, whose message in a bottle to his wife at home turned up in the River Thames 80 years later; and Joseph Ditchburn, from Crook, whose will and last letter to his mother before he left English soil in September 1914 were rediscovered only last year.

Having seen the new website, Mrs Crofton said: “It’s really good. It’s a brilliant idea.”