Renowned historian to help mark end of major First World War project

A leading historian who played a key role in adapting War Horse for the big screen is to speak at a special conference marking the end of a major First World War project.

Andy Robertshaw, lead historical consultant on Steven Spielberg’s 2011 film and a regular expert for a host of TV and radio shows including Time Team and Who Do You Think You Are, will speak at Lest We Forget, the third and final Durham at War conference.

Over the last four years the experiences of people in the North East during the First World War have been mapped out on the Durham at War interactive website. The aim of the project was to create a collaborative map where people could search thousands of documents, people, audio and objects in a new way, as well as upload their own findings and pin them to the online map. This has allowed visitors to the site to explore County Durham’s war experiences like never before.

Durham County Council was awarded £475,100 by Heritage Lottery Fund to set up the site, working in partnership with Durham County Record Office, the DLI Collection and Archaeology team. The active stage of the project is set to end in December but the website with still be live in the 2020s.

Members of the public are invited to the third and final conference on Saturday, September 29, celebrating the volunteers who have contributed to the site and marking the final year of the project with a special day at County Hall.

Mr Robertshaw, who also acted as historical advisor on the 2017 film Wonder Woman and has spearheaded numerous archaeological investigations along the Western Front, will give a talk entitled Unexpected Victory: How did the Great War really end?

Authors, historians, archaeologists and volunteers will also present the work they have developed over the past four years.

Jo Vietzke, Durham at War volunteer coordinator, said: “We’re inviting people to come and see the work of local groups and Durham at War volunteers. They can read about the county’s Victoria Cross winners, unexpected First World War stories and find out about forthcoming commemorative events in October and November.”

Other speakers will talk about identifying bodies from the battlefield after 100 years, medical provision around the Battle of the Somme, women during the war, new techniques for uncovering First World War archaeology and much more.

The day will also include film showings, including the new film In the Pink, made by Evenwood, Ramshaw and District History Society in association with Crackin Toast. The film explores the lives of men and women from the Gaunless Valley during the First World War. A trailer for Behind the Lines, a film made by Tudhoe and Spennymoor Local History Society, will also be shown.

The website went live on 10 September 2014, a date chosen specifically to mark the 100th anniversary of the day Durham Light Infantry (DLI) soldiers arrived in France in 1914, and has continued to be run by over 250 volunteers. It has helped to paint a picture of the tremendous war effort, both on the front line and the home front, in County Durham between 1914 and 1918.

Gill Parkes, the council’s principal archivist, said: “It’s been an absolute triumph, the site has not only succeeded in capturing previously unknown First World War material, but in capturing the imagination of volunteers, residents and visitors to the site. We would like to say a special thank you to our volunteers, who have researched and contributed so much to produce this remarkable local insight.”

The conference can be enjoyed over cake, as visitors are invited to get creatively commemorative in the kitchen by entering a poppy-themed bake off. Entries can be poppy shaped, decorated with poppies or flavoured with poppy seeds. Entries will be judged and eaten by conference attendees on the day.

The event takes place on Saturday 29 September between 9am and 4pm, with talks starting at 10am in the Council Chamber at County Hall.

The day is ticketed at £5 per person. Tickets can be purchased online at