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Spanish flu hits the camp


In early 1919, 47 of the German prisoners of war from Raikeswood Camp died when an outbreak of Spanish Flu hit the camp. 42 of them died in Morton Banks hospital where they were being treated and another 5 died in the camp. The funerals took place at Morton Cemetery, Keighley, where the men were then buried. The prisoners designed an elaborate memorial to their deceased comrades which was constructed in the cemetery. In the 1960s the graves were moved to Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery and the memorial was taken down.

The German prisoners describe the flu outbreak in Kriegsgefangen in Skipton (pages 226-228):

On 12th February five orderlies fell ill with influenza. The sick were treated in their barracks at first. Only when their condition became more serious were they taken to the camp hospital. The illness soon spread further among the orderlies, and on 15th February it spread to the officers. It would develop as follows: after an incubation period of 2-3 days, during which the symptoms were a lack of appetite and tiredness, a fever would suddenly break out, forcing the patient to take to his bed. The fever would be accompanied by fits of shivering, high temperature and a headache. The patient would suffer from constipation and lack of appetite, he would feel weak and appear apathetic. Additional symptoms were coughing, nosebleeds, backache and aching limbs, and occasionally an ear infection. The fever would peak on the 4th or 5th day when the crisis point was reached. In most cases the temperature would gradually fall from this point and the patient would begin to recover. However, lung damage and heart problems were often lasting consequences. Unfortunately, complications arose in many cases due to tissue and nerve damage. In such cases the fever did not abate and pneumonia and heart problems ensued. It was very noticeable that almost all of the sick, and especially the most seriously affected, were no older than 30.

Funeral of German POWs at Morton Cemetery (courtesy of Ian Dewhirst)

The camp took on a sombre air. All loud activity ceased. Classes and lectures were suspended. No singing, no music sounded through the Old Mess; no creative works were performed. The usual noisy comings and goings of the mess rooms ceased. The few who were still healthy now ate in the Old Mess at a few sparsely occupied tables and went about the camp with tired faces, strained by worry about their own fate. One constantly saw stretcher bearers everywhere; we asked reluctantly but with heartfelt concern which comrade lay under the blanket. Vehicles rattled their way through the camp gates, stretchers were loaded in. With fear and hope in our hearts, our eyes followed the departing vehicles. Indoors, in the sickbays, bed by bed, our comrades lay in feverish delirium: strong men, old soldiers prepared to bear anything, even death; now frightened men with shattered nerves, preoccupied by thoughts of death. One asked for a rosary, another, a teacher, taught his pupils in the night hours, yet another leapt out of bed in his fever thinking his mother was waiting for him outside. One, the last of four fallen brothers, made his will. Others, in their confused minds, were standing in battle, leading their men with loud commands or quietly-spoken orders. Some lay under the covers pale and apathetic; some readied themselves quietly for the final journey. What would we have done without you, our healthy comrades, in those hardest hours, united in providing selfless aid day and night! You sat by our bedsides to comfort us, you straightened the sheets and positioned the pillow with your faithful and, let’s face it, clumsy hands, you quenched our feverish thirst, you wrote our letters home, you willingly took upon yourselves even the most difficult and unpleasant sickroom duties. And you did this quietly and gladly. In the darkness of night you sat like faithful guardians, wrapped in your greatcoats, among your many patients, and when someone called out, you were always on hand, helping with loving care. If we had not had you, how many more would be lying there in that Keighley cemetery! And also you few faithful orderlies, who weren’t yourselves laid low, during those difficult days, you dealt with the care and transportation and all the other tasks, all performed out of your great love of helping others with all your might.

Translation by Ada Whitaker and Alison Abbey

Funeral of German POWs at Morton Cemetery (courtesy of Ian Dewhirst)