The German bombers headed for home leaving a blazing city behind them. This was London on the night of 7th and 8th September 1940. Left in their wake were the charred remnants of documents held in the British War Office records depository in Arnside Street. It had been thought that all the lists of German prisoners of war held in British hands had been destroyed. Fortunately, copies of these very same documents had been routinely passed to the International Committee of the Red Cross based in Geneva. Amazingly these documents can now be accessed online.
Over ten years ago I had been studying for a part-time degree in Languages (German with Japanese) at Leeds Beckett University. I wanted to do something really original for an important piece of written work. I had quite a large young family to look after, and the idea of journeying across the channel to Germany seemed out of the question. The light-bulb moment came in Bradford – in Little Germany to be precise, but where did it get that name? Research into Little Germany prompted me to investigate the story of other Germans who had lived in the area. Eventually, I came across the anti-German riots in Keighley in 1914, and the funerals of German officers and men who had died in the influenza pandemic of 1919. A large number of prisoners had been sent from a camp in Skipton for treatment at Morton Bank Hospital near Keighley. Rather sheepishly I walked into the library in Skipton and asked if they had any information about the camp. ‘Yes, we have a book, but it’s in German,’ they replied. Sometimes you just cannot believe your luck!
Funerals of the 47 German officers and men, who died of influenza and related causes, took place in February and March 1919. Some of the German officers from Skipton Camp are standing in their greatcoats to the right of the picture. A firing party from the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment was also in attendance. Colonel Ronaldson, the British camp commandant, is standing to the left of the open grave. Photograph courtesy of ‘Ian Dewhirst Collection’
Skipton CampI began to translate the book Kriegsgefangen in Skipton in early summer 2014. I have since been joined by a group of lecturers and students from Leeds University. The book itself is really interesting. It is over 300 pages long and details the daily life in the camp with remarkably good humour. It contains sketches, poems and prose contributions from around 50 former inmates.
Interest in the project has snowballed. A team of staff and students from several local secondary schools are carrying out an archaeological dig on that part of the site which has not been built upon. We have received photographs of the camp taken by one of the British guards, we have translated our first letter sent home by a German officer, and within the past forty-eight hours an email has arrived from someone living in Argentina to say that his father had been imprisoned in Skipton. His father had been captured at the Battle of Vimy Ridge which took place exactly a hundred years ago. We have photographs of the funerals which took place at Morton Bank Cemetery, and then there is the story of the Hindenburg! Really there is so much to say, but I had better simply refer you to our two websites: https://arts.leeds.ac.uk/kriegsgefangen/ and http://www.raikeswoodcamp.co.uk/
2nd Northern General HospitalSo what is the connection with Leeds Beckett Park? Part of the translation process is to make the book accessible to the modern reader. I kept returning to the thought ‘Who were these people?’, be they British guards or German prisoners. Fortunately, the records available via the Red Cross in Geneva are allowing us to identify the vast majority of the prisoners held at Skipton. Intriguingly I happened to come across a small number of references to German prisoners of war who received treatment at 2nd Northern General Hospital (Leeds) which was better known as Beckett Park. All 4 officers were lieutenants and had been imprisoned at Wakefield Camp. They were suffering from influenza, pneumonia, rheumatism and bronchitis. Their names were August Dippold from Munich, Alfred Amreihn from Essen in the Ruhr…
British prisoner of war list containing the names of two German officers who received treatment at Beckett Park. It seems that very few German prisoners of war were admitted to the hospital. Certainly, the admissions numbers are low: 11 and 13, and this list was produced as late as January 1919.
This is all very much ‘work in progress’, and our knowledge of the prisoners of war held at Beckett Park is changing from week to week. There is, of course, an invitation. Should any readers have information which can help us to find out more about Beckett Park and the 2nd Northern General Hospital, then please do not hesitate to contact us through the university website, http://libguides.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/archives.
Alan Roberts, Barnoldswick, 12 April 2017