Leeds nostalgia: Fresh news on PoW newspaper

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The story of the Yorkshire Post Kriegie edition is legendary but a new chapter in its history has just been completed.

The famous wartime publication was the brainchild of one man, Richard Pape, from Leeds, who being imprisoned by the Germans, set about motivating his fellow prisoners – many were from Yorkshire – and also in a bid to communicate coded information to the Allies.

What he created went down in history as one of the great achievements of British PoWs during the war – the Kriegie edition was indeed smuggled out of Germany and even came to the notice of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who branded it “an interesting and moving record of talent”.

When it reached the offices of the Yorkshire Post in Leeds, where Pape had once worked as a printer, they immediately published 300 commemorative copies, although the fate of the original, bound between two pieces of plywood taken from a Red Cross supplies box, remains unclear.

Retired engineer John Reid, who lives in Barnoldswick, Lancashire, has compiled a detailed dossier chronicling the lives of the Second World War soldiers who became prisoners of war and are listed in the back of the Kriegie edition.

Speaking to Times Past, he said: “I first came across Pape and the story of the Kriegie edition by accident when I was researching another piece of war history. I came across a mural of a Sterling bomber on a brick wall in a field in North Creake, Norfolk. I found it fascinating and I decided to save it, it’s now in an RAF museum. I did a lot of research into the plane, which was never found, its last mission being on 16/6/44. It fired my imagination. Pape was a navigator on a Sterling and that’s how he came into my sphere of interest.”

Pape, a determined red-headed Yorkshireman, was shot down during an air raid over Holland on September 7, 1944. He survived and for a while took up the fight against the Germans with the Dutch resistance.

He was, however, captured but subsequently managed to escape, only to be recaptured and escape again.

Mr Reid said: “On the night he was to be rescued and repatriated by a Royal Navy submarine he was captured and sent to a PoW camp Stalag VIIIb. He escaped from there and travelled across Poland only to be recaptured in Krakow. He was subsequently sent to work on a farm in Germany from which he again escaped making his way across Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria and into Hungary before being recaptured.

“His final camp was Stalag Luft VI where the Yorkshire Post Kriegie edition was produced in late 1944. Shortly after the paper was produced and not to be outdone he faked a serious illness and was repatriated on September 7, 1944 exactly three years to the day from when he was shot down.

“After several escapes and being recaptured, he was told by the Germans in no uncertain terms that if he tried to escape again he would be shot. This did not deter him, however and in the end he managed to get out of the camp before the end of the war.

“While in Stalag Luft VI, he set about producing a copy of the Yorkshire Post which later become known as the Kriegie edition, the word Kriegie [from Kriegesfangene] being short for prisoners-of-war.”

The edition itself contains all kinds of information, from medical and sport reports to theatre reviews, cartoons, editorial comments, poems and other articles, all of which served to motivate members of the White Rose Club.

In an interview in September 1989, Pape, who emigrated to Australia, said of the book: “In 1944, Russian forces were looming from the east to overwhelm the Baltic States and Stalag Luft VI with them. The Poles were under no illusions about Soviet humanity and saw their future as full of traps and pitfalls. They planned to break out. Aware of my precarious relationship with the Gestapo, the Poles offered to get me out too.

“So it was planned I would escape with two other PoWs to Hamburg and lie low in a safe house. The plans were to be disclosed to no-one else in camp but I was loathe to just disappear without someone, in far away England at least, knowing where I might be found or meet my end.

“Held in camp were almost 300 Yorkshiremen who could only await the outcome of events in a misery of debility and boredom. They formed themselves into The White Rose Club and the idea came to me to have one last brief go at coding.

“The idea took root in my mind that if I could produce a decent book or newspaper-type magazine, I could well give details in code of the safe houses in Hamburg.”

What those codes were remains unknown, however, what is known is that the Kriegie edition was successfully smuggled out and found its way back to Blighty, along with the names of the members of the White Rose Club.

Mr Reid has just finished compiling two albums-worth of information about those soldiers, detailing the stories of each right up to and including details about them and their families and he has passed the information for safe keeping to the West Yorkshire Archive Service.

“There are 30 or 40 names listed in the back and I’ve put together a potted history of each. It has taken a long time, I’ve written to every local newspaper I could which might help with information.”

Pape himself managed to pull off one last escape attempt, albeit by having to go to extreme lengths by feigning a serious illness.

“PoWs were occasionally repatriated if they had a serious medical condition and it happened that one in Stalag Luft VI did. Pape saw his chance and enrolled a fellow prisoner to whip his wrists and ankles with a wet towel for several hours so that they swelled up. He ate soap, which made him quite ill and he even procured, from the ill prisoner, a urine sample, which he managed to conceal about his body and deliver under supervision – in order to achieve this, he even made a fake penis, to fool the German doctors.

“His plan worked and he was back home before the end of the war. After the war he travelled extensively finally moving to Australia where he died on 19 June 1995.”

But there remains still one mystery, as Mr Reid explained: “Only 300 copies were ever printed of the Kriegie edition but as regards what happened to the original, no-one seems to know. Some have speculated it went with Pape to Australia but it is my belief it was left at the Yorkshire Post.”

Times Past can testify that a search of the Yorkshire Post/YEP archives has turned up no new leads in this regard. If any Times Past readers have any information about this, contact us at the usual address or Mr Reid at: john.reid2735@btinternet.com

Stephen Ewen, 62, of Cookridge, who died of sepsis in 2017.

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