HISTORIANS are attempting to paint a more complete picture of a Western front veteran from Dorset, as part of a study commemorating the centenary of the First World War.

They are eager to hear from anyone who thinks they may have known Sidney Herbert James Wilkins, or indeed any relatives of the former soldier.

The study, a partnership between Dorset-based South West Artwork and the British Library, is to collate an ‘auditory cenotaph’ of previously lost voices of British Great War servicemen.

As the First World War raged, researchers Wilhelm Durgen and Alois Brandel set about compiling voice recordings of British prisoners of war held in Germany.

Sidney, who joined the Dorsetshire Regiment before the outbreak of war, was deployed to France in August 1914.

His voice was recorded as part of the German study at the Wahn POW camp in July 1916, shortly after he was repatriated, possibly due to ill health.

These recordings – of around 200 men – were rediscovered in 2006 at Berlin’s Humbolt University, then acquired by the British Library the following year.

Since then, South West Artwork has been developing the project to ‘bring the voices of the past back to the public consciousness’.

Researchers at Dorchester’s Dorset History Centre are now eager to hear from anyone with knowledge of Sidney Wilkins.

South West Artwork director Laura Mulhern said: “We, as a Dorset-based arts agency have been developing this project in partnership with the British Library for a number of years.

“The aim is to produce a new public art commission to incorporate these voices of the past into an ‘auditory cenotaph’ to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.”

The recordings were originally made as a study of British accents.

• Sidney Herbert James Wilkins was born in 1891 and baptised at Longfleet, Poole, in the same year.

• For most of his childhood he lived with his parents, Ambrose and Elizabeth, at Stones Buildings, Longfleet. This building was demolished in the 1950s.

• Sidney had eight brothers and two sisters, including Mary Snook, with whom he lived for a while.

• He continued his service by signing on with the Royal Defence Corps in 1918.

• Sidney worked as a labourer and road mender. He died in Poole, aged 77, in 1968.

If you can help, contact Maria Gayton, Community Engagement Officer, Dorset History Centre, Bridport Road, Dorchester, DT1 1RP, or call 01305 228947 or email m.gayton@dorsetcc.gov.uk.


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To mark the momentous anniversaries of this year – 100 years since the start of the Great War and the 70th anniversary of D-Day – the Dorset Echo will be publishing a series of special supplements.

If you have any family stories you would like to share with us of those who served in the wars or any other information or pictures, email newsdesk@dorsetecho.co.uk or telephone 01305 830999 or write to newsdesk, Dorset Echo, Fleet House, Hampshire Road, Weymouth, Dorset, DT4 9XD.