This week is the centenary of the arrival of the first German officers to Raikeswood Camp. On January 17th, 19th and 21st 1918 50 prisoners each day travelled by train from the camp at Colsterdale, 5 miles west of Masham, where they had been held following their capture on the western front. According to the local newspaper, The Craven Herald, a large crowd turned out to watch as they were marched up to Raikeswood Camp and ‘they looked as if they would have been none the worse for a good wash’. The report added that ‘they were inclined to be on the lean side; and one could not help comparing their sallow skins and low foreheads with the ruddy complexions and well-fed appearance of our “Tommies”.’
One of the German officers describes the walk from Skipton Station to the camp:
We proceeded onto the station concourse and organised ourselves into a marching column. In an orderly manner, we strode through the streets of Skipton. The whole town was on its feet. Dark, animated crowds of locals lined the pavements. They were dignified in their manner towards the ‘Huns’. Astonishment and curiosity adorned their simple faces; here and there a finger was raised to point out a ‘remarkable’ individual amongst us, here and there a witticism was uttered. Proud joy was plain on all their faces: Huns, captured Huns in English hands! And we German officers were walking through the midst of them! We were overcome with mixed feelings. Our diaries bear witness to this: ‘Under those thousands of British eyes I was overcome by a feeling of defencelessness. Under their gaze, everything in me that had been strong and manly now seemed torn to pieces and defiled.’ ‘I was moved to lower my eyes out of shame. A feeling of regret washed over me, that I had not thought to avoid such an eventuality by instead letting my life be ripped to shreds.’ ‘I was ashamed for my Fatherland. And I knew that my presence gave these strangers their scornful feeling of superiority at having overcome German strength. That was unbearable.’
the numerous agricultural machines on the roads suggested an unusually intensive farming industry and therefore also a state of emergency – and yet these English men, women and children betrayed no signs of wasting away, quite the opposite: even in peacetime, nowhere in Germany are there so many fat representatives of the human race as here in Skipton. In particular, many of us can still picture the vast figure of the barmaid at the Royal Oak, a lady giant in miniature.
(Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, pages 32-34, translation Caroline Summers)
Photograph courtesy of Peter Barry and Charles M Whittaker