The Voices of Breary Banks Past

When coming up with the concept and theme of our project, as a group we wanted a heavy focus on personal accounts and stories from the era which will feature at some of the stops. Our aim is to bring (the otherwise desolate) site of Breary Banks alive, and evoke an emotional response from the audience. The stories and accounts will feature factual personal stories found within archives of newspapers and diaries from the time. There will also be stories of fictional characters, the content of which will be based on our historical research. Although there will not be a story at every stop (as a group we decided to have variety), the accounts will be representative of the long history of the camp;

  • 1903-1914: Navvy camp for reservoir
  • 1914-1917: Army training camp
  • 1917-1919: German Prisoner of War (POW) camp
  • 1919-1926: Navvy camp for reservoir

Within the audio guide and its visual counterpart, there will be a special feature to the German prisoner of war Johannes Rienau, who was situated at Breary Banks during 1917-1919. This diary has been very informative in our research for providing an account of living conditions for the POWs at this camp.

Though not fully developed as yet, as a group we have begun to develop these fictional characters which will feature at certain stops of the audio guide. These aim to give an overview of life during the period in a fun and unique way.

A story of the navvy worker has been heavily worked on by team member Steve, who has also volunteered to be the voice for the character. Here he has written a rough draft of the script that may feature in stop 2 in the audio guide. Below is a snippet of the script in progress.

“I live here in the huts, there’s 15 of us in our hut. It’s a good site this one, it has a good canteen which is at the top of the road you see in front of you. And it’s licensed I must add.  It’ll be Muton or beef for tea tonight. It’s good first thing in the morning you can smell that bacon cooking, sets you up for the day right enough There’s a hospital, electric lights plumbing, and also a school for the brainy people! They really look after us here. There’s a narrow gauge railway that brings supplies and building materials up to the camp, and we sometimes use it to go to the pub in Masham.”

Stop 3 will feature a navvy child, letting the audience know that there were often children and families living in the camps, which may come as a surprise to the audience, as it certainty did for the group during our research. Here we will tell the story of a child who perhaps, “misses daddy who’s hard at work.” There is documentary evidence that there was a school on the camp.

The final fictional account will be of a nurse who works at the hospital situated on the Breary Banks camp, which is located near stop 7. As the hospital is thought to have been there through the entire history of the camp (1903-1925), it will be a good way to tie in the end of the audio guide. The nurse will tell a story of a young boy who was scared to come into the camp as he was intimidated by the barbed wire, and will reminisce on the past people who have been treated at the hospital (both navvy workers and army soldiers.)

During our research for personal accounts about life at Breary Banks, we came across Johannes Rienau’s diary. Rienau was a German POW at the camp and described his everyday life experience. Despite this however, the full diary is not available in English, and we have relied on a Google translation from a German website to get an accurate story for the audio guide. A British newspaper has also provided us with simple information on Johannes for inclusion.


Johannes Rienau, he was aged 19 when he joined the army in 1915.

Johannes regularly describes the beautiful landscape of Colsterdale camp, which was often the name of Breary Banks.

“Outside there still lies deep gleaming snow. This morning on the way to breakfast we all stood spellbound at the splendid scene. It was a snowscape, more glittering, brilliant and stirring than I have ever seen”     -

“On the ice-covered snow sees the Sunday morning. Fairytail splendour, as it dusted with fine veil, the heights of Colsterdale lie within the wood, the bare rock, the green medow…Above all, a high, pure, blue sky. But yet we are prisoners! and yet there is a war!”     -

Johannes also writes about the Christmas he spent at the POW Breary Banks camp in 1917, and describes is as “having rest- doing nothing”,  and how they “dined to excess- with lobster, spinach, scrambled egg, bread, cheese and a cup of coffee”indicating to us that the German prisoners, though so far away from home, still enjoyed this festive holiday.

Also while researching within the British Newspaper Archive, we came across newspaper clippings of four German prisoners who escaped from Breary Banks, eager and excited to return to war. We wish to include this in the audio guide with a mysterious angle to it to engage the audience.

Written by Jess Chatburn.


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