Keys to the Past


Period Overview - World War I

World War I

The First World War left a significant impact on the built heritage of County Durham with a range of sites left behind that tell the story of the county at war.

Military camps and training installations represent the majority of sites that made a physical impact within the landscapes of the county, ranging from Prisoner of War (POW) Camps and hut encampments to rifle ranges and aircraft landing grounds. The physical remains of these sites are predominantly very limited, reduced to faint traces on aerial photographs or simply evidenced within documentary sources. In some cases where an installation was used right through to the Second World War, such as at Deerbolt Camp and Windlestone Hall, the infrastructure that was laid down has left more of a surface imprint and these are simpler to locate.

There are a number of maritime sites off the coast of the county that attest to the hidden elements of the war, with submerged wrecks offering glimpses of horrific events. There are a number of vessels that became victims of torpedo attacks from German submarines whilst there are records of some crews being forced to abandon ship before scuttling charges sent them to the depths. The locations of these are sometimes hard to pin down due to conflicting source evidence or very general grid-references, but the stories are recorded in various locations on land in war memorials or oral history documentation.

Within some of the larger towns of the county including Bishop Auckland, Barnard Castle, Seaham and, though outside of the county boundary, Darlington, there are more prevalent documentary sources that show how some of the buildings were used during the war. Billets, stores, transport hubs and hospitals are a common feature of more urban centers and reflect a more tangible element to the county's wartime heritage simply because many of the buildings are still standing. A number of buildings that were used as Volunteer Aid Detachment Hospitals (Seaham Hall Hotel, Ropner Convalescent Home and Vane House) show how everyday people could make a real difference in the aftermath of devastating wartime events.

The majority of the First World War assets added to the Historic Record for Durham are war memorials. These come in all shapes, sizes and forms and can be found within most of the villages and parishes of the area. Traditional memorials such as crosses, statues, obelisks and cenotaphs are prevalent in the record as very public expressions of remembrance and commemoration. More discreet memorials can be found within many of the churches and public buildings of the county that document a number of things; from stories and accounts of individual sacrifices made, to showing the sheer numbers of people who served, died and were left to mourn as a direct result of war.