Raikeswood was no ordinary camp. More U-boat commanders were held there than at any other camp in Britain and there were over twenty airmen. One was Skipton’s own fighter ace Joachim von Bertrab with five ‘kills’ to his name. In April 1917 von Bertrab was responsible for downing four British aircraft in one morning, writes historian Alan Roberts.

For the benefit of aircraft enthusiasts, von Bertrab shot down two single-seater Martynside G.100 bombers and two hours later caused two Sopwith 1½ Strutters to collide with each other. This unfortunately resulted in the deaths of six British airmen. The final kill was an FE2d on May 15, 1917. The two-man British crew survived and both men were taken prisoner.

The general public in both Britain and Germany were thrilled by the exploits of these fighter aces. On the one hand aircraft represented the most modern technology available, while on the other hand the aerial duels, sometimes fought out in full view of the trenches, represented a throwback to the days when warfare was less industrial, and the enemy could be engaged in single combat.

The German fighter aces became household names. To satisfy the demands of an adoring public, a Berlin firm produced between six and seven hundred different postcards celebrating German achievements in military aviation; these included at least three postcards of von Bertrab himself.

Von Bertrab entered into the spirit of this public adulation by having his DIII (manufactured by the firm of Albatros) painted either black or dark purple with a brightly coloured comet painted onto the side of the fuselage. Curious readers will find a photograph of the aircraft available online, but the pilot standing alongside it bears little resemblance to the Skipton prisoner who had been invited to go to Berlin to be photographed.

On August 12, 1917 von Bertrab was himself shot down by British fighter ace Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock who was by no means the typical First World War pilot. He had been born into a working-class military family and had had a very difficult childhood.

He did keep a rather irregular diary, and did manage to record his encounter with von Bertrab.

“I had a splendid fight with a single-seater Albatros Scout last week on our side of the lines and got him down. This proved to be Lieutenant von Bertrab, Iron Cross, and had been flying for eighteen months… The scrap took place at two thousand feet up, well within view of the whole front. And the cheers! It took me five minutes to get him down, and I had to shoot him before he would land. I was very pleased that I did not kill him.

“I went up to the trenches to salve the ‘bus’ [plane] later, and had a great ovation from everyone. Even Generals congratulated me. He didn’t hit me once.”

Von Bertrab was seriously injured with his right arm broken by a bullet and deep flesh wounds in his left arm and leg.

The British authorities did not feel that revealing the identities of their star aviators was in the best interests of the war effort. After intense pressure from the British media the War Office finally relented. ‘Mick’ Mannock was credited with no fewer than 61 victories in aerial combat, more than any other British pilot. He was the British equivalent of the famous ‘Red Baron’, Manfred von Richthofen. For a brief period Mannock and a very small number of elite pilots enjoyed all the benefits that celebrity status could offer to young men on leave in London. Beneath the ostensibly glamorous lifestyle Mannock was plagued by doubt and suffered recurring nightmares about being shot down in a burning plane. Mannock was no doubt sincere when he wrote that he was pleased that von Bertrab had survived. He was later awarded a host of prestigious medals including the Victoria Cross. He was killed when he was shot down in flames in July 1918. Von Bertrab was killed in a peacetime plane crash less than three years after his release from Skipton Camp.

Artillery fire was the largest cause of fatalities in the German Army. This was after all an age of dehumanised and mechanised warfare. The popular appeal of the aerial dogfight fought out man to man in the skies above the trenches was, therefore, quite understandable.

The victors were lauded, but the victims were not anonymous. Every one of the five British aircraft downed by von Bertrab has been identified. So too has each of the six deceased British crewmen. These were all young officers, educated, with families and doubtless with some glittering careers ahead of them.

Von Bertrab is one of a small number of exceptions at Skipton Camp where the exact effects of their actions on, or in this case above, the battlefield are known. The combined effects of millions of men on both sides trying to annihilate each other are all too familiar. There can be few families in Britain and Germany which did not suffer loss during this most bitter of conflicts.