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21 January 1918: 50 more German officers arrive from Colsterdale


On 21 January 1918 the third group of 50 German officer POWs made the journey from the camp at Colsterdale (5 miles west of Masham) to Skipton. In their book Kriegsgefangen in Skipton they describe the journey.

Archaeology on the site of the Colsterdale camp

“The day of our migration came.  In the grey dawn of the 17th, 19th and 21st of January, 50 prisoners each day tore themselves away from the sweetness of sleep.  For the last time, they drank their coffee in those familiar surroundings, then delivered themselves into the hands of the interpreters and ‘sergeants’ who, with notable and affectionate curiosity, searched our paltry belongings and then our persons, in some cases down to the shirt and socks, in case of any items that could be used during the journey to jeapordise the survival of the ‘United Kingdom and Ireland’.  And yet not infrequently, it was possible to trick those spying eyes with creativity and cunning, to smuggle through valuable items such as compasses, large scissors etc.  Unfortunately, the present writer’s finely tuned modesty prevents him from describing in detail the bodily parts that were found to be useful for concealing and carrying these treasures.

Soon, the ‘doubly open gate’ (to be taken literally!) spat the nomads out onto the snow-covered and icy country road.  With tender glances at the bundles in our hands, whose limited contents were ennobled by the humble philosopher’s adage ‘omnia mea mecum porto’, and in rows of four surrounded by British bayonets, we lined up and set out along the smooth, icy road that took us up and down the hills of the surrounding area, past tidy little village houses and small farms with fortress-like stone defences, past desolate wintry fields bordered by hedgerows and rough stone walls to keep in the sheep and cows that even in these hard months were stomping out an existence in the open air.

After two hours’ tiring march we descended into Masham, the last stop on the railway line, and were stowed away with our guards in a comfortable train carriage.  The train had soon transported us into the sparsely cultivated lowlands of Yorkshire.  We lazed around comfortably in the soft red plush upholstery and made a few faltering attempts at English conversation with our guards.  They were old men, who harboured no hatred of ‘Fritz’; without guile, they made no secret of their aversion to the endless war.  Harrogate, Weeton, Harthington (sic) and Ripon sped past.  Albion’s sons gazed with curiosity and peaceful astonishment at the ‘Huns’.  A few ladies and young girls, their hair curled in waves around their necks, made a show of indignantly turning their backs to us – even in the fairer sex, the less favourable view – but we were not disheartened since, for the most part, the front-view of these ladies exhibited neither the austere features of classical beauty nor sweetness of a German Gretchen.

The train finally arrived amongst the thousand smoking chimneys of Leeds, where we felt keenly how England’s wheezing breath was struggling against Germany’s iron fist.  We left our carriage here, marvelling at the enormous signs (‘Buy War Bonds!’) and boarded a new train.  Our former guards left us and their esteemed positions were taken by a detail sent from Skipton to meet us.  [...] Our anticipation increased.  The train brought us into a charming valley, where a little river (the Aire) wound playfully around the railway tracks.  Passing via Keighley, at around 3pm we eventually reached our goal: Skipton.”

Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, pages 29-31, translation Caroline Summers