German prisoners of war

Timelines: Ribbon of Remembrance German prisoners of war
Announcement Date: November 5, 2018

The site of Richmond Camp as it was first called was suggested by Robert Baden Powell while he was based at Richmond Castle as Inspector-General of Cavalry. The name quickly changed to Catterick Camp in order to avoid confusion with Richmond in Surrey. The Camp’s first troops occupied the area for training in 1915. Major-General Michael Frederick Rimington was the officer in charge.

In 1915 the decision was made to expand the training camp. A new prisoner of war camp was established and eventually 5000 German prisoners of war were housed there. Initially German PoWs were not permitted to work and boredom became a major problem. The prisoners played sports and even set up an orchestra (with instruments they made themselves) to fill their time. A change of government policy meant that prisoners could be allowed out of the camp to work as labourers. As a result they were employed in constructing the road leading out of Richmond Station, via St. Martins and on to Catterick Camp (Rimington Road).

Catterick Prisoner of War Camp became the administrative headquarters for all ‘working camps’ in the area.

By the end of the war 89,937 prisoners who had served with the German army were interned in camps across the United Kingdom.

Playing card box made by a German PoW at Catterick. Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

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  • 2nd Lt J S Purvis

    Canon John Purvis OBE (1890-1968) Canon John Purvis was an extremely talented artist and photographer. He is best remembered however for his historical and literary achievements. His translation of the original York Mystery Plays into modern English were central to their revival during the Festival of Britain in 1951. This work, along with his initiation of the Borthwick Institute for Archives in York, lead to his OBE in 1958. Purvis was born in Bridlington 1890. After studying at Cambridge University he worked at Cranleigh School as a history teacher, a role to which he would return after the First World War. He enlisted with the Yorkshire Regiment, serving with the 5th Battalion from early 1916. Purvis was wounded during the Battle of the Somme on the first occasion he went ‘over the top’. On that day, 15th September 1916, he had recorded history’s first tank attack in pen and ink in the early light of dawn. Two well known war poems, ‘High Wood’ and ‘Chance Memory’, originally published under the pseudonym Philip Johns(t)one are now known to have been written by Purvis.

  • Percival Dunning

    Percival Dunning was born in 1889 in Thormanby Yorkshire. By 1901 he is listed as Perewal Dunning residing in Coxwold Easingwold. He is living in his grandfather’s (Frances Dunning) house who is a plate layer ganger with North eastern railways. A plate layer’s job was to inspect and maintain railway tracks. Percival attested in Richmond on the 26th of February 1906, at that time his occupation was as a farm labourer. He was 17 years of age, weighed 114 pounds, and had hazel eyes and brown hair. It was noted in the ledger that he was flat footed and had an old injury to the end of his right long finger. He was initially posted to the 4th battalion. In the regimental gazette he is recorded as being wounded towards the end of 1915. The 2nd Battalion were deployed in the Givenchy and Essars area. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission states that Private Dunning was killed in action on the 7th of June 1917. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial (panel 33). He also remembered on the memorials at St Michael’s church Coxwold and the King’s book at York minster.  

  • Sidonie van Eepoel

    Sidonie van Eepoel died just a few months before the end of the First World War at the age of 40. Her family story is shared with a quarter of a million other Belgians, who fled to England to escape the invading German Army in 1914. Around 10,500 of these refugees ended up in Yorkshire, the biggest intake of any area outside London. For those who stepped off the train after up to a month of travelling there was both relief and exhaustion. It was after mid-September 1914 that were the first Belgian migrants started to arrive in Yorkshire. Sidonie’s family arrived in Richmond in November 1914, establishing their home at 10 Frenchgate. A total of 17 Belgians appear to have been made welcome in Richmond, with some also living at 10 Park Wynd. While Sidonie and her mother died during the war and were buried in Richmond in the town cemetery on Reeth Road, 15 of their friends and family returned to their native land when hostilities ceased. They were fit, safe and well thanks to the generosity and hospitality of the people of Richmond in their time of need. Photo submitted by Sara Cox.