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Prisoners take exams in Skipton camp


On 13th January 1919 16 student prisoners of war in Raikeswood Camp sat the written examinations for their Abitur (German equivalent of ‘A’ level). The oral examinations followed on 28th, 29th and 30th January. The men had been taught by some of their fellow prisoners who were qualified schoolteachers. These teachers had written to the Prussian Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs seeking official recognition for the Abitur course and requesting permission to hold the written and oral exams in the camp.

In the book Kriegsgefangen in Skipton prisoner Willy Bibeljé describes the Abitur course, the response from the Ministry and the efforts made by himself and his fellow students:

Deep in enemy territory, a German secondary school was established with 10 teachers and, initially, 11 students. On 3rd June formal lessons commenced. With fresh and joyful intentions and glowing with noble motivation, teachers and students alike went about their shared work. The curriculum was exactly the same as that of Prussian secondary schools. In their regular meetings, members of the teaching staff would exchange views on the students’ knowledge and lack thereof, their ability and motivation and the question of how long it would probably be before individuals were ready to achieve their goal. Still, great obstacles persisted in this educational work. Like migratory birds, the group had to move from one classroom to another and lessons sometimes had to be postponed for a few days or even several weeks.

Acquiring the necessary textbooks was an arduous task, which took at least three months, often longer. For a long time we had to make do with a single copy, and circulating it from one comrade to the next was often an unpleasant experience. The chemistry teacher appealed to the Commandant, with the full support of the Camp Senior, hoping to receive permission to acquire all the necessary chemical apparatus and chemicals for a few simple experiments. However, when we asked for the same as that permitted to the English Officers imprisoned in Germany, our request was refused outright by the War Office. So the chemistry and physics lessons had to be limited to descriptions of the experiments, whose actual demonstrations would have not only brightened up the lessons significantly, but would have, above all, facilitated the students’ understanding. But these difficulties did not deter us, for we followed the path we had set out on with purpose and confidence, which we hoped would later lead to complete success.

On 4th December 1918 the written response from the Ministry arrived via the Swiss Embassy in London. The answer we received exceeded our expectations. The Prussian Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs had recognised our Abitur course and even granted the course teaching staff permission to organise a ‘preliminary’ final examination here in Skipton. News of this spread quickly throughout the camp. This had a two-fold effect on the Abitur students: on the one hand they were delighted to be able to be assessed by a commission of comrades with whom they felt a communal spirit through months of working together. On the other hand the prospect of the exam was now suddenly looming perilously and tangibly near.

As everybody had worked with such diligence since the start of the course, an increase in effort was hardly considered possible so on receipt of this permission from the Ministry the dedication of the students was taken to above its limit. From 6 o’clock in the morning (and getting up at such an early hour in the cold, dark, wooden barracks certainly required considerable willpower) until late in the evening when the bell signalled time for the evening roll-call, the young comrades worked enthusiastically and undaunted, and with indefatigable diligence – they barely took any time out for meals. The teaching committee decided to increase the number of lessons to 47 per week.

On 13th January, with well-equipped minds, our students faced the written examination.

Questions for the final written examination

German: To what extent does the figure of Götz portray the personal development of Goethe and also the general question of the meaning of human life?

Greek: Translation from Greek to German: Thucydides VII, Chapter 83.

Latin: Translation from Latin to German:

Gymnasium students: Cicero, pro Roscio, 37, 105-107.

Realgymnasium students: Livius, ab urbe condita, XXIV, 43, 44 (Coleridge, Macmillan, London edition)

French: Translation from German to French.

English: Translation from German to English.


Gymnasium students:

  1. In a triangle a=80.349cm, c=85.627cm, mb=75.243cm. Calculate the remaining information.
  2. A civil servant with a starting salary of 2400 Marks, which was increased annually by 100 Marks, earned a total of 90000 Marks during his entire service. How long was he in office?
  3. A offered 600,000 Marks cash for a property; B 696,000 Marks payable after 3 years without interest; C 729,000 Marks payable after 4 years without interest. Who offered the most if 5% compound interest is calculated, and how much more than the others did he offer?
  4. A rectangular flowerbed 3m x 4m is surrounded by a uniformly-wide strip of lawn whose surface area is ten times the size of the surface area of the flowerbed. How wide is the strip?

Realgymnasium and Oberrealschule students:

  1. What is the shortest distance between Hamburg (latitude φ1 = 53° 33’ 6’’, longitude λ1= 9° 58’ 30’’) and New York (latitude φ2 = 40° 43’ 48’’, longitude λ2= 71° 29’ 12’’)?
  2. Point P1 (?, 6) lies in the 2nd quadrant of the ellipse with semi-axes a=5, b=10. Point P2 (4, ?) lies in the 1st quadrant on the parabola with the parameter I. Point P3 (?, 3) lies in the 1st quadrant on the hyperbola with the semi-axes a -4, b-4.
  3. a) What are the co-ordinates of the points P1, P2, P3?
  4. b) What are the equations of the perpendicular bisectors of the triangle P1, P2, P3?
  5. c) At which point do the perpendicular bisectors intersect?
  6. d) What is the equation of the circle circumscribed around triangle P1, P2, P3?
  7. A square piece of card has sides of length a. From the four corners equally-sized squares are to be cut out. The resulting rectangles of the piece of card are folded upwards to create a box. How long must the sides of the cut-out squares be to maximise the capacity of the box?

Physics: What is movement and how does the physicist describe the different forms of movement (with the exception of rotation) considering in particular the vertical, horizontal and diagonal projections.

Chemistry: The production of hydrochloric acid and its transformation into chlorinated lime by the Weldon process.

  1. How does hydrochloric acid occur in nature and why is common salt the most important compound of hydrochloric acid?
  2. How is hydrochloric acid prepared from common salt? The set-up of a factory with muffle furnace and condensation plant should be explained by means of a sketch.
  3. How is chlorine made from hydrochloric acid according to Weldon, and how is the chlorine transformed into chlorinated lime?

(Translation by Catriona McLachlan and Anne Buckley)


'Studying hard' by Erich Dunkelgod

The Abitur course was just part of a sophisticated education system set up by the German prisoners of war in Raikeswood Camp. At its peak there were 180 weekly timetabled hours of classes and lectures covering a wide range of subjects including languages, the sciences, mathematics, business and commerce, history, history of art, agriculture and horticulture, psychology, engineering and law.