Historian Alan Roberts looks at Skipton's Raikeswood Camp officer Captain Horatio John Parkhurst and the emergence of his green credentials.

CAPTAIN Horatio John Parkhurst, the adjutant at Raikeswood Camp was a complex character. Nicknamed ‘I-can-kill-you’ by the German officers, the colliery owner’s clerk from South Wales had battled against mental and physical ill health for most of his army career. He later emerged as an unlikely eco-warrior a hundred years ahead of his time.

Mr Ackernley, Skipton’s sanitary inspector was puzzled. Contracts for the removal of waste from prisoner-of-war camps throughout Yorkshire were being put out to tender, but Raikeswood Camp had been crossed out from the list. The previous contractor Mr Chapman said he understood they were burning their refuse and making pathways with the resulting clinker. Ever vigilant, Ackernley decided to investigate.

In September 1918, Parkhurst escorted Ackernley round the camp. All the waste paper was collected bagged and sold, he explained. All the kitchen, animal and vegetable waste was collected, and fed to the eleven pigs which they kept. They had three small incinerators or destructors which they used to re-burn all the ashes, rubbish and tins. The clinker was used for roads, the small ash for gardening and the rest was buried on site. Raikeswood certainly seemed like a very ‘green’ and well-managed concern.

Three years earlier and shortly after Raikeswood Camp had opened as a training facility for recruits to the British Army, an inspection was carried out by Dr Atkinson, Skipton’s Medical Officer of Health; Dr Arnold from the Local Government Board and sanitary inspector Joseph Ackernley. Dr Arnold was particularly interested in the food supplies and in the sanitary arrangements such as latrines, baths and drainage. The team found a number of gullies where ‘liquid load’ had overflowed and percolated into the ground. Ackernley explained that the drains had not been constructed to the satisfaction of Skipton Council and that all pipe joints had been left open. This poor drainage would later be a concern for the German officers who attempted to improve the pathways, resulting in prisoners sinking only up to their ankles in mud rather than up to their calves. Later still, plans to convert the abandoned camp into temporary housing for the people of Skipton were thwarted by the lack of suitable drains.

Ackernley noted that he had previously been refused admission to the camp. The town clerk wrote a strong letter to the officer in charge of the camp reminding him of his duty to fully co-operate with the civil authorities in matters concerning sanitation and hygiene.

In October 1914, just three months after the outbreak of war, there were around 700 army recruits scattered in various billets throughout the town. These included the skating rink, the Primitive Methodist School, the Drill Hall and the Conservative Club. To Dr Atkinson’s regret there were insufficient closets available for the disposal of human waste and these had to be supplemented by a large number of buckets or pails. Skipton, he proudly stated, was a ‘water-closet town’. Four billets were provided with pails: the skating rink filled ten pails of excreta each day which all had to be collected.

Skipton Joint Hospital was on standby to deal with any infectious diseases. One soldier living locally was sent there after he had caught typhoid.

In December news came in from army headquarters in York that an entire brigade of around 4,000 men would be coming to Skipton. How would the local police superintendent find accommodation for so many men in a town of just 12,000 people? Empty factories, public buildings and schools were carefully measured by local officials. Two schools were to be kept open with children taught in shifts. Fortunately for Skipton the planned troop movements did not happen.

After the Territorials had left Skipton, nine of the billets had to be fumigated using 102 lbs of sulphur while the skating rink was sprayed with one bottle of formalin. Raikeswood Camp opened in January which signalled the arrival of the Bradford Pals to the town. Even here in purpose-built accommodation there were problems. In October Ackernley reported that in the previous month sections of the camp had been disinfected on five occasions largely on account of disease and vermin.

As the war progressed standards of hygiene in the army improved. That same month a government inspector found little to complain about in the way food was prepared or supplied.

Four years later an embarrassed Major Parkhurst would contact Skipton Council. There was, he confessed, a very large quantity of tins at Raikeswood which needed collecting. Everything has its price and the tins had to be crushed first. In the meantime the German officers had left for home leaving eighteen months’ worth of empty cans. Skipton Council would sell over 4 tonnes of rusty tins at forty shillings a tonne.

In previous wars more men had died from disease than from enemy action. The army was well aware of the risks caused by poor sanitation and a lack of good hygiene. Accommodating large numbers of men in the safe environment of a small Yorkshire town was not without its problems. Thankfully World War One was the first conflict where disease was not the major cause of death.