The influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 infected 500 million people worldwide killing over 50 million of them. In Britain this illness, known as Spanish flu, affected a quarter of the population with the death toll reaching 228,000.

German Prisoners of War outside hospital - Raikeswood Camp, Skipton

German POWs outside the camp hospital© Courtesy of Peter Barry & Charles M Whittaker

The first cases of influenza hit Raikeswood Camp during July and August 1918 when a small number of British guards died from the illness. A second wave of influenza which was felt more strongly among the German POWs was observed on 12 February 1919 when 5 prisoners of other rank became ill. Three days later the first officers went down with the illness. The camp hospital soon became full and sick men were left in their barracks alongside their healthy comrades. Finally on 20 February the most seriously ill men were transferred to Morton Banks Hospital in Keighley. The German officers write of the ‘friendly treatment’ they received there from Medical Officer Dr William Scatterty.

The diet for the most seriously ill patients consisted of fresh milk with whisky or brandy (e.g. one ward of 33 patients received 45 litres of fresh milk daily). Recovering patients received bread, butter and tea in the mornings, fish, potatoes and rice pudding at lunch time, bread, butter, jam and tea in the afternoons, and cocoa or bouillon in the evening. Patients free of fever received bread, bacon or ham and tea in the mornings. The cost of this food was 3 shillings per person per day

Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, page 230

Of the 546 officers and 137 other ranks imprisoned in Raikeswood Camp in February 1919, 324 officers and 47 other ranks became ill. The death toll was 47 (37 officers and 10 other ranks), with 42 dying in Morton Banks Hospital and 5 in the camp. The funerals took place at Morton Cemetery, Keighley, where the men were then buried.

Dr Scatterty

Dr Scatterty© Ian Dewhirst

Names of German prisoners who died from the Spanish flu pandemic© Kriegsgefangen in Skipton

 

 

 

Funeral of some of the 47 German prisoners who were victims of the Spanish Flu epidemic

Funeral of some of the 47 German prisoners who were victims of the Spanish flu pandemic© Bradford Libraries

 

Nazi salute during the memorial service at the graves of the influenza victims

Nazi salute during the memorial service© Leeds Mercury

Following the deaths of their comrades the officers arranged for a headstone memorial to be erected in their honour on the site of their burial. In 1938, a memorial service was held at the headstone, where it was reported that the party of 50 Germans who attended from various parts of Yorkshire raised their hands in the Nazi salute. Despite this, the Keighley News reported that “British and Germans stood side by side on Sunday silently praying that never again shall such a catastrophe as that which bought the two great nations face to face in battle overtake the world.” (Keighley News, 19 March 1938).

Just over a year later, Britain and Germany were once again at war.

The graves of the German prisoners were later transferred to the Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery in the 1960s and the headstone memorial was destroyed.