When Dales held German prisoners

Anne Buckley with the book of memoirs by German PoWs in Skipton. Picture: Simon Hulme
Anne Buckley with the book of memoirs by German PoWs in Skipton. Picture: Simon Hulme
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No-one in Skipton remem­bered, and hardly anyone ever knew, that the boots of 500 cap­tured German officers had once echoed down the high street.

It might have remained forever a closed chapter, but for the book of memoirs they left behind. Abandoned for a century in a shoebox in the town library, it opens a window on a wartime world of men far from home and of locals who likely had never seen a foreigner.

Surviving pictures of the First World War PoW camp in Skipton

Surviving pictures of the First World War PoW camp in Skipton

Now, a Leeds University lecturer is helping to piece together its history.

Raikeswood, to the west of Skipton Castle, has for decades been a housing estate. But before the land was cleared in the 1920s it had been an army base.

The soldiers who made up the Bradford Pals battalions of the West Yorkshire Regiment, were trained there. When they had been sent off to the Somme - 1,770 of them to die in a single hour - they put up barbed wire and shipped in enemy officers taken prisoner on the western front.

“Until the book was discovered recently, virtually no-one knew that there had been a First World War prison camp in Skipton,” said Anne Buckley, who lectures in translation and German at Leeds University. “There is lots of information about the experiences of British prisoners of war in Germany but very little about Germans here,” she said.

What her team is learning now comes largely from the 330 pages of diaries and poems the Germans smuggled out of Raikeswood. They were published in Munich in 1920 but no-one knows how a copy found its way back to Skipton.

Although the British were in charge, they appeared to accept the “word of honour” of the Ger­man officers that they would not try to escape, Ms Buckley said. “They were allowed to go for walks. At one point there were 150 men on the moors at Embsay,” she said.

She believes the officers wanted to document their captivity to show that they had used their time productively, for the benefit of the Fatherland. “They knew that people were starving back home, Ms Buckley said.

More than 900 men passed through Raikeswood. The first arrived in January 1918 and it remained occupied until October 1919, 11 months after the Armistice. A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund will now help finance an English translation of the memoirs, as well as a web diary and an interactive model of the camp,

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