The lost voices of Britain before WWI: German recording of British PoWs reveals a rural society rich in now extinct accents that varied from village to village

The recordings were discovered by British academic John Adams in Berlin and reveal how strong different accents and dialects were before the impact of motor transport, television and radio.

Among the men recorded was John Hickman, a musician from Bletchingdon, north of Oxford, who experts say has an Oxfordshire accent completely different from that of today.

They noted that he pronounced the word ‘were’ as ‘weir’, ‘father’ as ‘feyther’ and country as ‘cundri’.

Jonnie Robinson, head of sociolinguistics at the British Library believes this is the earliest known recording of its kind. 

Mr Adams came across a reference to the recordings in a German book and traced the archive to the Humboldt University in Berlin in 2007.

'These were made on the spot at the time,' he told The Times. 'The songs and voices echo a lost 
Britain, one we can hardly imagine.' 

The 200 recordings have been preserved on shellac discs and are expected to form part of an audio cenotaph for next year's First World War centenary events. 

The recordings were originally made on wax by Austrian philologist Alois Brandl and sound recordist Wilhelm Doegen. 

Many of the prisoners were asked to read from the Bible or tell jokes and limericks. 

Hew Strachan, who is advising the government on next year's events, said: 'Regional accents were 
much stronger. 

'This was a period when you could tell people from one village to another, it wasn't just county to county.'