Raikeswood Camp was built in early 1915 as a training base for the 16th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, better known as the ‘First Bradford Pals’, who were the first residents of the camp from January 1915 to May 1915.
The Pals marched into Skipton on 15 January 1915 to the cheers of thousands of well wishers who came out onto the streets despite the heavy rain that followed the men along their route from Bradford. When the Pals arrived, the camp was in a rough state. However, they quickly settled down and soon made the huts a home from home, personalizing them with names such as ‘Buckingham Palace,’ ‘North Pole’ and ‘Downing Street.’
The ground which surrounds some of the huts is still in terrible condition and only the ample use of planks saves us from a mud bath, or at any rate, sinking in the slimy earth up to the knees.
Bradford Weekly, 29 January 1915
The camp was home to over 1300 men who took part in a variety of training exercises including trench digging, route marching and drill, as well as maintaining and improving the infrastructure of the camp.
There was also time for leisure activities, including the use of a YMCA hut which could hold up to 500 for concerts, whilst at the weekend, Skipton became known as ‘little Bradford’ with families visiting their loved ones at the camp. Sport was an important form of leisure, as well as way of keeping fit, and a number of matches against other battalions, including men from the Second Bradford Pals, were organised.
The First Pals left Skipton on 20 May 1915 to join their comrades in the Second Bradford Pals at Ripon to continue their training, before being sent to Egypt to defend the Suez Canal. They finally arrived in France in March 1916 and were to play an important role in the first day of the Battle of the Somme where they suffered heavy losses. It is believed that of the 697 men from the First Bradford Pals who went ‘over the top,’ 527 were either killed or injured, a 74.8% casualty rate (‘Bradford Pals’ by David Raw, p. 196).