I could have sworn I’d posted about this back when it was in the news a few years ago, but apparently not, and better late than never:
The Berliner Lautarchiv British & Commonwealth Recordings is a subset of an audio archive made between 1915 and 1938 by German sound pioneer, Wilhelm Doegen. Enlisting the support of numerous academics, Doegen sought to capture the voices of famous people, and languages, music and songs from all over the world. The collection acquired by the British Library in 2008 comprises 821 digital copies of shellac discs held at the Berliner Lautarchiv at the Humboldt Universität. It includes recordings of British prisoners of war and colonial troops held in captivity on German soil between 1915 and 1918 and later recordings made by Doegen in Berlin and on field trips to Ireland and elsewhere. The content of the recordings varies and includes reading passages, word lists, speeches and recitals of songs and folk tales in a variety of languages and dialects.
Maev Kennedy, in a 2009 Grauniad story, discusses the British POW angle:
“It’s interesting that there seems to have been no attempt to capture what you might call officer class voices; it was clearly the regional accents that he wanted,” said Jonathan Robinson, curator of social science at the library. “Among the most interesting is the voice from Bletchington – now so close to London it’s barely perceived as having an accent, but I think people would be startled to realise what how West Country the accent of rural Oxfordshire sounded at that time.”
He is particularly fond of the many Yorkshire voices: “That was how my own grandparents would have sounded – but it certainly isn’t how I sound now.”