Fascinating and forgotten history of a German WWI prisoner of war camp in Yorkshire has been retold in new book

The fascinating and forgotten history of a WWI prisoner of war camp in Yorkshire has been retold through painstaking research and the release of a brilliant new book.

Friday, 30th April 2021, 11:10 am
Updated Friday, 30th April 2021, 11:12 am
German prisoners compiled colourful accounts of their experiences at Raikeswood camp in Skipton, North Yorks., and published their smuggled works in 1920 following repatriation. (SWNS)

German prisoners compiled colourful accounts of their experiences at Raikeswood camp in Skipton, North Yorks., and published their smuggled works in 1920 following repatriation.

An original copy of the text miraculously made it back to the market town, where it sat in a shoebox gathering dust for decades - before being recently rediscovered.

University of Leeds researchers have spent the last five years studying the text, originally called Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, and it has now been translated and republished.

The book provides an account of life at Raikeswood, an officers’ camp where prisoners did not have to work, through intriguing anecdotes, sketches and poems.

Fascinating accounts reveal a rarely explored side of the war, at the very end and in the immediate aftermath in 1918 and 1919, through the eyes of German POWs in England.

These include descriptions of the conditions in the camp, the daily routines, their activities, relationships with the guards and their thoughts of their homeland.

Anne Buckley, a German and translation studies University of Leeds, spearheaded the research project and published the book, titled German Prisoners of the Great War.

She said: “It has been a privilege to re-tell these men's stories a century later.

“The resilience and innovation of the men within the confines of captivity was remarkable.

“Some of the accounts are humorous, while others are solemn, and some of their messages about nationalism and conflict are still highly relevant today."

The original book, titled Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, was published in Munich in 1920.

A copy made its way back over to the Yorkshire town, although it’s not known how or why, where it sat in Skipton Library for decades.

After being rediscovered around five years ago, Anne, along with a team of students, staff and volunteers undertook the monumental task of translating the century-old German text.

The book includes an extensive introduction from its editor, based on her research into the history of the camp, and the lives of the German prisoners.

A full list of the prisoners is included as an appendix.

Anne said research in the camp is continuing through contact with descendants of the prisoners, some of whom have played a part in the publication.

She had the privilege of speaking to Wolf Kahler, whose grandfather Fritz Sachsse was the senior German officer in the camp and the first-named author of Kriegsgefangen in Skipton.

Daily life at Raikeswood was, as would be expected, very regimental, with morning reveille, three daily roll-calls, three meal times, distribution of post and parcels and lights-out.

As officers did not have to work, most spent their time remaining fit and active, as many believed they must be fit enough to serve Germany once again one day.

A variety of sports and athletics were played while prisoners were also permitted to leave camp to go for walks in the North Yorkshire countryside.

POWs also indulged in cultural activities by organising a theatre group, a choir, an orchestra and a chamber music group.

Anne said it had been a “privilege” to retell the inmates’ stories.

She added: “This is an account of local, national and international history that still resonates with us today.”

Copies of the book, published by Pen & Sword Military, can be purchased at here.