A NEW collection of letters and diaries from 100 years ago is giving fascinating insights into life on the homefront in Dorset and in the trenches during the last year of the First World War.

Artists Alastair Nisbet and Sharon Hayden, who are behind the Heritage Lottery funded project, describe 1918 as 'the year the world changed'.

Over the past year they have explored the lives of people in 1918 on a day to day basis using their diaries.

Alastair and Sharon have recorded podcasts containing extracts from the diaries which can be listened to on the project's website voicesfrom1918.co.uk or can be downloaded on iTunes.

Their ‘characters’ - a stretcher bearer from Portland, a nurse from Wimborne, titled Lady from Beaminster, women’s rights campaigner Marie Stopes and an artillery officer all tell extraordinary stories.

Alastair said: "Diaries are a jumble of writing about everyday life. When you read them you get to know the people, their humour, their emotion and their everyday routine. It’s like having a window into their lives that is fresh and real so you relate to it."

The people from 1918 Alastair and Sharon have researched give us a real insight to Dorset life in 1918.

The 'characters' write of German prisoners marching through Beaminster, schoolchildren picking half a ton of blackberries, nurses consoling wounded soldiers about their love lives, swimming in the Suez canal, carrying water a mile across the trenches in petrol tins for a bath and much more.

Alastair Nisbet said: “We wanted to try and get across the feel of everyday life in a time of huge national drama and personal tragedy. Our characters write about the enormity of war at the same time as walking in the Dorset countryside or playing football behind the lines. Somehow the everyday events captured in their diaries make their experiences all the more real.”

Research from the project has already been used in two stage shows and an open air performance at the Pages of the Sea event in Weymouth on Armistice day in 2018.

Extracts from one of the diaries have been recorded as a series of three podcasts entitled: 1918 The Year the World Changed available to download on iTunes as well as on the project blog.

In one of the pictures on this page you can see a page from the diary of Lady Mary Monkswell.

Lady Mary was a Victorian diarist and widow of the late Liberal politician 2nd Baron Monkswell. He had been Minister for War in 1905 and Mary, who was in her late 60s by 1918, was extraordinarily well connected with a sharp eye and keen interest in current events. She writes with emotion and feeling - often before things are reported in the newspapers.

This is an extract from her diary in which she describes Armistice day in Beaminster.

"We began the day with an airship sailing round and round, close over us. We all rushed out and cheered and waved. "About 11 the band played God Save in the Market place whither we all repaired, the flag was hoisted on the church tower and the bells rung.

"We don’t positively know yet that the Germans have yet signed. The Armistice was signed at 5am and the war ceased at 11. Wonderful scenes. I am stunned. Great service 7.30, church crammed non com minister read lesson in broad Scotch. Foch’s terms of peace most severe. Lloyd George said “Germany ruined within and without” They intended to ruin us."

Another interesting diarist featured in the project is Jim Samson. Jim was a Portland quarry worker, who in 1918 had been a stretcher bearer in the heat of Egypt for two years.

Voices from 1918 has been developed by artists Sharon Hayden and Alastair Nisbet in partnership with Wimborne Community Theatre, Dorset History Centre and the Priest’s House Museum, Wimborne with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It can be viewed at voicesfrom1918.co.uk