Following the end of the failed Spring Offensive in July 1918 when the prisoners realised that Germany was facing likely defeat, thoughts turned to the possibility of escape.
A number of escape attempts were made out of Raikeswood Camp, but none ended in success. Whilst finding a way through the barbed wire was considered easy, the officers admitted that their chances of escaping this ‘island cage’ and making it over the sea back to Germany were small.
Only those who could speak English like the English, who were acquainted with the customs and traditions of the British, who knew how to find their way across the country, who had a heap of English money and could expect an attempt to meet with success.
Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, p.115
Many of the escape attempts, which included tunnelling under the fence and cutting through the barbed wire, were soon brought to an end before the prisoners even had chance to make it out of Skipton. However, one attempt in July 1918, saw two German officers make it as far as Chatburn in Lancashire, 16 miles from the camp.
The two men, Hans Wallbaum and Hans Laskus, had walked through the night and on the following day arrived at the Black Bull pub, Chatburn, in search of lodgings, introducing themselves as members of the Royal Flying Corps. Whilst the Clitheroe Advertiser reports that the men quickly aroused the suspicions of the landlord who informed the police, the German version of events as retold in their book of memoirs, Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, is that they received a warm welcome and made them themselves popular. Upon their arrest, the Clitheroe Advertiser reports:
Laskus, who could speak English perfectly, replied “You are right. We escaped from Skipton. Quick work getting a message.” They were taken into custody and conveyed to Clitheroe in a four-wheeler, for the hire of which they very thoughtfully proffered to pay. But the subsequent search at the Police Station revealed the fact that their wealth totalled threepence!
Clitheroe Advertiser, Friday 5th July 1918
It is not clear if Wallbaum and Laskus, or indeed any of the other prisoners who attempted escape, ever intended to make the journey back to Germany. The fact that they had headed west into Lancashire, rather than east towards the North Sea (the quickest route back to Germany), and that they had little money on them, is an indication that their aim had only ever been to waste as much of other people’s time as possible. The suggestion that the escape attempts were mere ‘sport’ for the prisoners is evident in Kriegsgefangen in Skipton when they describe the British guards’ search for the two escapees:
Individual Tommies crouch under the barracks and cock their ears to the rafters. Meanwhile, filled buckets of water seem to slip accidentally out of our hands and spill onto the listeners.
Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, p.113
The punishment for being captured trying to escape was a few weeks in solitary confinement, followed by a move to another camp, a sentence that the prisoners thought was worth taking the risk for.
Almost anyone who has been a prisoner has entertained the challenging thought of escaping. The pull of home, the dreariness of imprisonment, the longing to be back at the Front and in the fight, all of this encouraged thoughts of escape. And the adventurous spirit of our youth is deeply ingrained in the German blood. And what did we have to lose? A few weeks in a cell and then a change of scenery through transfer to another camp. But the monotony of our existence was unbroken, and our memories were ‘glorious’.
Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, p.115
By the end of 1918, as the weather conditions became unfavourable to journeying across land and sea to get back to Germany and the Armistice gave the prisoners hope of repatriation, any thought of escape seemed futile and by the summer of 1919 there were no more escape attempts.