WOLF Kahler was 14 when his grandfather, Fritz Sachsse, died. He remembers flying kites with him as a child, and visiting him after his parents fled their home in the heavily-bombed Baltic port of Kiel during the Second World War.

But Wolf knew little of his grandfather’s experiences in the First World War. “We only knew that he had been in Skipton,” he said. What Wolf has since learned is that Sachsse made a daring escape from capture which took him across the world...

Last week Wolf - an actor who starred in Raiders of the Lost Ark - unveiled an information board at a former prisoner-of-war camp in Skipton, where his grandfather, a naval captain, was the German Senior Officer from March 1919 to October 1919. Raikeswood Camp was initially a Bradford Pals training base and later used for captured German officers.

The information board was funded by the First World War Network and National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the Craven and the First World War project. At the unveiling Wolf spoke movingly about his sadness after the war when his grandfather was in East Germany, while most of the family in the West. “It is too much to take in. To be re-confronted with one’s grandfather - he becomes more and more real,” he told locals gathered at the ceremony to see a piece of Skipton history uncovered.

Fritz Sachsse was at the German naval base of Tsingtao (now Qingdao in China) when it was taken by the Japanese, supported by British forces, in November 1914. Sachsse was taken to a prisoner-of-war camp in Fukuoka, Japan, and, after escaping, tried to get back to Germany with fellow escapee Herbert Straehler. Using false names they made their way through Japan and Korea into China, aiming for Afghanistan. After travelling for three months and crossing the Gobi desert they weren’t able to continue with their planned route so re-traced their steps to Shanghai then travelled separately by sea to America. Sachsse travelled across America by train, met up with Straehler again, and they secured places on a Norwegian steamer heading for Bergen. The vessel was searched by the British just off the Orkney Islands and the men were found hiding in a laundry room. They were initially sent to the civilian internment camp on the Isle of Man. Sachsse was sent to Skipton in June 1918, Straehler in August.

Sachsse’s major task at Raikeswood was to re-build the shattered morale of prisoners following the outbreak of Spanish flu which killed 47 men. He proved a popular, effective leader.

Sachsse had left Germany in October 1913. He returned in October 1919 when the prisoners were released from the camp, and went back to active service in a much-depleted German Navy, retiring in the 1920s with the rank of Rear Admiral.

In 1938 he wrote a series of articles, ‘Meine Flucht durch China’ (‘My escape through China’), and he co-edited a book, Kriegsgefangen in Skipton, initially penned by German prisoners at Raikeswood, smuggled out when they were repatriated. An English translation will be published by Pen & Sword next year.

Emma Clayton