Much has been written about the German officers held at Raikeswood Camp. But what about Craven soldiers held in Germany? Historian Alan Roberts writes


The German officers remarked that they had been generally well treated, but spare a thought for the unfortunate young men from Craven who were captured by the Germans during the First World War. How would they fare? Would the Germans prove to be equally accommodating and honour the existing international agreements? This is the, at times shocking, story of how our boys managed to survive in enemy hands until a hard-earned peace was gained in November 1918.

This story of our local heroes’ exploits is taken from the pages of the Craven Herald. Paper was in short supply and by summer 1918 the Craven Herald had shrunk in size to a paltry four pages. The first page consisted entirely of adverts. The third page contained the local news from the various towns and villages while the back page featured yet more adverts and those vital gardening tips. We were after all being encouraged to grow our own food. The second page was the most important. Here readers could learn about the progress of the war, read some high-minded editorials, absorb the news from Craven and sadly find out who had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

The paper contained a strange mixture of stories. In the Earby news section Signaller William Banks was reported to be in hospital in France with a wound to the left wrist caused by an explosive bullet – the fourth time he had been wounded. Privates Bundy and Duxbury had been taken prisoner and were both reported to be in sound health. An elderly woman was recovering from a failed suicide attempt, and some fine sweet peas and potatoes were on display at the local flower and vegetable show.

One week in June 1918 no fewer than 14 local men had been captured. Victor Stansfield of Skipton was reported missing in April, but his parents had recently received a postcard saying he was a prisoner in Germany and was ‘unwounded’. Private Frank Grundell of Cowling was recovering from wounds, while Private Alexander Oates was reported to be ‘quite well’. Lieutenant J. Lewis Brown of Clitheroe of the newly formed RAF would later be captured after he took part in a bombing raid behind enemy lines.

Then there were the officers and men who were still missing.

For some families miracles did happen. Former Skiptonian Lieutenant Wrigley was reported killed in March. His mother later received three postcards saying he had been taken prisoner and was being well cared for. He had however been shot in the ankle trying to escape.

The numerous friends of Private J.T. Ideson of Barden, missing for three months, were all glad he had survived, as was his wife and six children. There was no shame whatsoever in being a prisoner. His death would have been no help to his family whatsoever.

Back home friends, families and well wishers did their best to support their loved ones. Around twelve men from Silsden had been taken prisoner. A charity cricket match was held to raise funds to send them parcels of food. Wounded British servicemen from Morton Banks Hospital near Keighley were invited to attend.

Earlier in the year a crowded audience had heard Henry Mahoney, an escaped civilian prisoner, recall his experiences of captivity in four German prisons. In one camp, prisoners had lived on a daily diet of acorn coffee, red cabbage soup and one slice of black bread. Members of the public, he said, were allowed to enter the camp and jeer, throw mud at them and even spit in their faces.

It cost £35 to keep each man alive for twelve months, and the Silsden group already had sufficient funds for a year’s supply.

Conditions in Germany were deteriorating rapidly. The Royal Navy was enforcing a blockade of German ports. If German civilians were suffering from malnutrition what right had British prisoners of war to expect to be fed? One prisoner reported being told, ‘You Schweinehund; it’s your fault; you’re not allowing any food to come into the country; we’re starving; the children are hungry; you deserve what you get.’

Millions of parcels arrived from Britain provided by organisations like the British Red Cross and the Order of St John. The aim was to provide each prisoner with sufficient food and clothing. Food parcels weighed around 10 pounds and were designed to provide a fortnight’s food for each prisoner. Sometimes the food was stolen en route, sometimes the prisoners had been moved to other camps, and the prisoners always had to wait while details of their capture were registered and sent through to Britain. These parcels were a lifeline to British prisoners of war. Many would doubtless have perished without these much needed supplies.

In a later article we will learn more about the lives of local officers and men, and how they endured captivity in Germany. The author found it an exceedingly humbling experience reading through the reports of these brave men young men and how they coped with some truly appalling conditions.