John Dixon is appealing for information about the 70th Infantry Brigade after the North-East War Memorials Project was given £17,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The archive will focus on the brigade’s staff and movements during the Second World War, in particular during the 1940 Battle of France and retreat from Dunkirk.

The 70th was a “secondline”

brigade and consisted the 10th, 11th and 12th Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI).

The DLI later became the 3 Rifles, which still recruits from south Durham, Durham City and Chester-le-Street, and Gateshead.

The 70th Brigade built airfields and defences, but suffered a large proportion of casualties, killed and captured during the war.

Mr Dixon, former treasurer and website co-ordinator of the memorial project, said military history often overlooked the small stories and he was relishing the chance to bring them to life for future generations.

His father, Robert Bagnall Dixon, who died in 1998, served as the brigadier’s driver, but was discharged with shrapnel wounds.

“It all goes back to his stories of his time during the war and listening to him like most young men,” said the 64-year-old.

“He would talk about his experiences but I probably didn’t listen hard enough because there was a lot he didn’t talk about.”

He expects his mission to provide a Wikipediastyle resource will take him all over the country, as well as to Iceland, where the brigade spent 15 months training.

The project will also encompass a mission to find Bishop Auckland historian Tom Hutchinson’s uncle’s grave.

Mr Dixon says he will also help Dire Straits star Mark Knopfler discover more about his uncle, Piper Laidler, who died in Ficheux, northern France, in 1940.

He hopes veterans and their relatives will root out photographs, letters and memorabilia which he can upload to the archive.

“I’m not trying to paint people as heroes, but they were there doing their share, doing their bit and I think it deserves a bit more recognition than it has had,” he said.

“They were always treated as second-class.

“Their names hardly feature in the military histories, but some of the raw material is now available and we have the opportunity to close that gap.”

Mr Dixon’s eventual aim is to compile a complete list of the brigade’s personnel, including those in artillery, medical and engineer units which supported the brigade.

So far, the retired public service accountant has 1,600 names, which he estimates accounts for a third of their number.

■ Mr Dixon can be contacted either by email to or by post: 45 Boundary Court, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, DL14 7JE, or on 01388-609608.

The North-East War Memorial Project is at