First World War Network member Anne Buckley was the first recipient of a collaborative research grant from the network to undertake a co-production project with a non-academic partner. In this blogpost, Anne discusses her work with the Craven and the First World War project which resulted in the installation of an information board marking the site of a First World War training and PoW camp in Skipton, North Yorkshire.
This research project into the First World War camp in Skipton started when staff at Skipton library brought a book, Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, to the attention of the University of Leeds in 2014. The book was written by 50 of the German officers imprisoned in Skipton during the First World War and was published in Munich in 1920. I have been leading the project to produce an English translation of the book which will be published by Pen & Sword in 2020. In a fitting parallel to the original the translation is a collaborative effort with contributions from staff and students and the University of Leeds and local volunteers. The book quite possibly represents the most detailed account of a German POW camp in Britain during the First World War. Hence, the POWs’ account is of international and national as well as local importance.
I have been collaborating with Craven District Council’s Craven and the First World War project since autumn 2015 when Professor Alison Fell, who heads the University of Leeds Legacies of War project, introduced me and my colleague Dr Caroline Summers to Project Officer Rob Freeman. As I live in Skipton collaboration has been very straightforward!
We have done a large amount of public engagement work including organising several archaeological digs on the site of the camp involving local schoolchildren. In addition, we have commissioned a professionally-designed project website, held exhibitions and given a large number of talks. One of the most rewarding activities was working with the children of Skipton’s refugee families to produce an animation film. The film told the story of the senior German officer in the PoW camp, Fritz Sachsse, and his incredible journey to Skipton, which started with his escape from a Japanese POW camp. You can see the film here: https://skiptonww1camp.co.uk/project/refugee-project/
On 12th July actor Wolf Kahler, the grandson of Fritz Sachsse, officially opened the information board and gave a moving speech in which he shared his personal memories of his grandfather. The event was attended by around 150 people including local residents, and academics and archaeologists who have been working on the project to uncover the story of the camp. Wolf Kahler was a familiar face to many of them, having had starring roles in films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark in which he played the Nazi Colonel Herman Dietrich.
One of the aims of both my work and that of the Craven and the First World War project is to ‘rewrite the story of the First World War camp back into the history of Skipton’. The camp is very rarely mentioned in histories of the town, and our work aims to change this, reshaping accounts of Skipton and its past and also enabling local residents of all generations to understand more fully how the national narratives of commemoration and war relate to their own home surroundings.
The information board is now a permanent reminder of the training and prisoner-of-war camp that stood on the outskirts of Skipton a century ago. In his speech Wolf Kahler said that his grandfather would sign off his letters with the words ‘do not forget me’. The board will ensure that the people of Skipton will not forget Fritz Sachsse and his comrades who were imprisoned here during and after the First World War.
Media coverage of opening
BBC Look North Clip embedded into blogpost on project website:
Project websites and social media