AS the First World War raged on the Western Front in France in 1918, a "regiment" of German soldiers was occupying itself in the shadow of the panoramic fells framing Skipton. There were 450 of them, all officers and each a prisoner of war.

To fill their time, they created a theatre, performed music, set up a "university" wrote poetry and prose, played sports, minted their own brass coins and, yes, set out to explore the Yorkshire Dales.

We know all this because they kept a diary "Kriegsgefangen in Skipton" - a copy of which rests in Skipton Reference Library, occasionally thumbed by a few curious folk with a knowledge of German.

The original was written between January 1918 and October 1919 and smuggled back to Germany after the war and published in 1920.

The reference library copy was "discovered" more recently in a show box of archives by Caroline Summers, a lecturer in German at the University of Leeds and later her colleague, teaching fellow, Anne Buckley.

It has now become the focus of a major project, spearheaded by them and involving language students, who have been tasked with translating the complete document in time to be published in English by 2018, the centenary of the soldiers' arrival in Skipton

It will rekindle the life of the men housed in wooden barracks on the site now occupied by Raikes recreational ground and houses in the Raikeswood Drive and Raikes Road area.

The project is partnered by the library, the Leeds University Cultural & Creative Industries Exchange and Craven District Council's Craven and the First World War project.

"It's extremely exciting. Whenever I cycle or walk up there I just get a buzz imagining the activity that went on up 100 years ago," said Anne, who lives in Skipton.

"It seems they were reasonably well treated and had a good relationship with the English guards. They kept up a sense of humour because they deeply missed their homes.

"They appreciated the beauty of the countryside around Skipton and were allowed out on walks accompanied by an English soldier but not into Skipton after stones were thrown at them on one occasion. You can image it was also an attraction for the local girls."

But it was not all sweetness and light. Many of their privileges were removed for some time which they understood were reprisals against the poor treatment of English officers in German camps.

It meant the suspension of the choir singing saucy songs on the square in front of the bath house and the doomed orchestra played its last tunes "boldly and cheerfully" until the reprisals were lifted in July 1918.

Caroline who said about a third of the book had been translated so far, believed the diary contained a story that could deepen understanding of the impact of war.

"We're hoping to provide a valuable resource for readers and researchers who do not speak German. It is an account of local, national and international history that still resonates with us today."

It is planned to hold information sessions at Skipton Library where people will have the opportunity to read extracts and ask questions.

"We'd also be delighted to hear from anyone who has any information or memories of stories relating to the camp," she added.

To see the diary contact