Lost story of a Yorkshire First World War prisoner of war camp revealed in new book

The forgotten history of a First World War prisoner of war camp in North Yorkshire has been brought to life thanks to 'painstaking' new research from the University of Leeds.

Secret diaries kept by German soldiers in a prisoner of war in a camp near Skipton have been translated into English in a book after meticulous investigation by a team of researchers from the University of Leeds.

German prisoners compiled accounts of their experiences in Skipton’s Raikeswood camp into a book, Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, which was published in Munich in 1920 following the prisoners’ repatriation.

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The forgotten story of a First World War prisoner-of war camp in North Yorkshire has been brought to life thanks to new research from the University of Leeds. Photo credit: Submitted picture

An original copy found its way to Skipton Library, and had been gathering dust in a shoebox for many years.

The book provides an account of life in the camp through anecdotes, sketches and poems, and bears witness to a rarely explored perspective on the war and its immediate aftermath through the eyes of the German POWs.

Now thanks to a research project led by Anne Buckley, a lecturer in German at the University of Leeds Lecturer in German, it has been translated into English.

The book entitled: German Prisoners of the Great War: Life in a Yorkshire Camp brings the fascinating account to life for new audiences for the first time, and will be officially launched tomorrow (Thursday April, 29).

Pictured, Actor Wolf Kahler, (left), whose grandfather Fritz Sachsse was the senior German officer in the camp and who was the first-named author of Kriegsgefangen in Skipton pictured next to Anne Buckley from the University of Leeds. Photo credit: Simon Stevenson

Ms Buckley 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.”

A team of roughly 30 staff and students at the University of Leeds and local volunteers spent five years painstakingly translating the prisoners’ stories and accounts.

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

Pictured, Skipton's First World War power of war camp football squad. Photo credit: Submitted photo

During the centenary of the First World War, the project team collaborated with the Heritage Lottery funded Craven and the First World War project, which aimed to build a greater understanding of life in Craven during the First World War with public engagement activities. Close collaboration continues with Craven Museum and Skipton Library.

The translations have now been published in the new book, edited by Ms Buckley, with an extensive introduction 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.

Research into the camp and the German prisoners continues through contact with descendants of the prisoners, some of whom will be speaking at the book’s official launch tomorrow.

"It has been a privilege to re-tell their story a century later – this is an account of local, national and international history that still resonates with us today,” said Ms Buckley.

Pictured, the University of Leeds.

Actor Wolf Kahler, whose grandfather Fritz Sachsse was the senior German officer in the camp and who was the first-named author of Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, will share memories of his grandfather and read from his foreword to the book.

While Sylvia Reineke, whose grandfather Heinrich Haase was one of the orderlies in the camp, will talk about her grandfather’s life after the First World War and read a section from the book about the orderlies’ experiences.

Charlotte Smith and Sabine Schlüter, who were part of the team of 30 translators, will also discuss some of the challenges they faced when translating the century-old German text. They will each read an extract from their section of the book.

And Ms Buckley will talk about her role in leading the project and describe the research into the camp and the men.

She added: "I am very much looking forward to the launch on Thursday and I am delighted that we will be joined by Wolf Kahler and Sylvia Reineke whose grandfathers were among the prisoners."

The launch, organised by Skipton Town Hall and Skipton Library, will take place online over Zoom tomorrow at 7pm here.

Copies of the book can be purchased here.

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