The Craven Herald giddily reported the arrival of the first batch of German prisoners of war ‘at an old and historic town within a hundred miles of Skipton’, writes historian Alan Roberts.

Preparations had been going on for months and the location of the camp at Raikeswood was an open secret, yet wartime regulations prevented the paper from naming the town. Prisoners were marched along the main streets. These first arrivals were the enlisted men who were intended to act as servants to the German officers. The reporter described the soldiers and concluded that the only thing missing from the occasion was the presence of any spectators.

The newspaper was trying to comply with the terms of the Defence of the Realm Act which forbade anyone from revealing information which might be useful to the enemy. The newspaper determined not to report the subsequent arrival of three batches each of around 50 officers.

Another officers’ camp at Donington Hall in the East Midlands had earlier been the subject of intense media scrutiny when it was being refurbished to receive its first intake of prisoners. The press questioned the vast amounts of money being spent on the project with sums of around £20,000 being bandied about. The officers included some prominent prisoners who were able to secure their own private quarters. Questions were asked in the House of Commons. One MP asked, ‘How many more country houses is the War Office going to rebuild for the comfort of German prisoners?’

Furthermore allegations had appeared in the ‘Globe’ newspaper stating that Margot Asquith, the wife of the British Prime Minster, had been associating with German officers there and sending them gifts. According to one correspondent: ‘I hear from several sources that Mrs Asquith has recently been playing tennis with the German officers at Donington Hall. There is an excellent cement court there, and many of the prisoners are very keen players. Several of them are also, I believe, former acquaintances of Mrs. Asquith…’ Mrs Asquith successfully sued for libel. It had been made clear that she had never ever been to Donington.

The VIP prisoners there had included Lieutenant Otto Froitzheim who had been a world hard-court champion and also a defeated Wimbledon finalist in 1914.

At Skipton the important prisoners included 14 U-boat officers, more than twenty airmen and several escapers from less secure camps.

The facilities at Donington had included craft workshops, a shop, a library and a large kitchen. There were also opportunities for the prisoners to play tennis or football.

The only thing missing at Skipton was the tennis court. In fact the German officers had begun clearing a suitable space for one, but had hit upon gas and water mains during the clearance work and permission was withdrawn.

The Germans were nothing if not thorough. The plan of the camp shows the sports ground on the left, the communal buildings containing the shop, library and kitchen to the bottom right with the craftworkers’ rooms and site of the tennis court towards the centre.

The treatment of prisoners of war during the First World War was governed by an international convention.

Britain and Germany were keen to abide by the terms of the agreement, but were worried that the other side might renege on its promises. Both sides had determined not to punish captured prisoners for simply being members of the enemy’s forces.

Skipton Camp was subject to regular inspections by the Swiss Legation in London. The first report was disappointing in that 230 German officers were looked after by 124 orderlies. An official in Whitehall was shocked at the number of servants. On the Kaiser’s birthday several officers were able to celebrate by drinking port wine. In their previous camp they had eaten goose at Christmas. The officers were also able to receive the men’s magazine La Vie Parisienne from France.

British officers were considered to be part of an elite, and by extension that also applied to their German counterparts in captivity. Some of their privileges may strike people today as overgenerous.

The officers held at Donington were accused by the press of being pampered. Was this also true at Skipton?

The main sanction was the deprivation of liberty. Wallace Ellison, an Accrington-born prisoner in Germany and serial escaper was quite clear saying he ‘would rather have been a free man in the worst slum in Liverpool than kept a prisoner in a prince’s palace’.