A blue plaque has been unveiled on a house once lived in by the first Honorary Freewoman of Durham.

Helena Rosa Duncombe Shafto OBE was bestowed with the honour "in appreciation of her devoted labours on behalf of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) prisoners of war (POWs)".

Born in 1854, her interest in the DLI came from her family association with the armed forces - two of her sons were killed in action.

Her eldest son, Lt. Charles Duncombe Shafto was with 1 DLI when he was killed during the Boer War in 1900.

Helena Rosa Duncombe Shafto OBEHelena Rosa Duncombe Shafto OBE (Image: Durham County Council)

Her second son, Capt. Arthur Duncombe Shafto DSO, Royal Scots, was killed during the First World War retreat from Mons in 1914.

Despite her grief, she worked unceasingly on behalf of good causes, in the main linked to the DLI.

She led a number of working groups that assembled food parcels, knitted socks and gathered other items to be sent on to POWs.

She also relayed news gathered from POW letters and escapees to anxious loved ones and was considered the "head of POW affairs" by local people and the DLI itself.

That work saw her receive the Honorary Freewoman of Durham honour in June 1919, and later, an OBE.

(Image: Durham County Council)

Following the First World War, Mrs Shafto continued to be associated with the regiment, speaking at events and sitting on a range of committees.

She also sat on hospital boards including some that looked after wounded DLI soldiers.

Following her death in 1938, her obituary in the Durham Light Infantry Journal remarked: "No one could have done more for the regiment than she did."

Referring to the continuation of support once men had been repatriated, it added: "Many members of the regiment will remember the good work she did during the Great War by tending to the wants of those who returned home, also for the valuable work rendered when in charge of the Prisoners of War Fund by continually sending out parcels to men of the regiment in all parts of the field.

Guests gathered for an unveiling of the blue plaque at 9 South Bailey in Durham City.Guests gathered for an unveiling of the blue plaque at 9 South Bailey in Durham City. (Image: Durham County Council)

"Even today ex-members of the regiment and their wives will meet and talk of the friend that has passed and of the memory that will never fade."

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The blue plaque was unveiled on Mrs Shafto's former Durham City home at 9 South Bailey, which is now owned by Durham University's St Cuthbert's Society.

As part of the unveiling, the society hosted a celebratory lunch for those in attendance, including His Majesty's Lord Lieutenant of Durham, Mrs Sue Snowdon, Mrs Jane Shafto representing the Shafto family, civic dignitaries, representatives of Durham University and the blue plaque nominators, the Durham Light Infantry Friends.

Mrs Jane Shafto said: "The Shafto family are delighted that Helena's charity work, which was of such significance to prisoners of war abroad and the local community in Durham, is being recognised with a blue plaque and we hope her endeavours serve to inspire future generations."