World War I soldier wills digitised for online archive

Aug 29, 2013


The BBC News website reported today that the last wishes, thoughts and concerns of more than 230,000 soldiers who died on the front line during World War I are to be made available online.

The wills, which were kept by troops in their pocket service books and tucked into their uniforms, are owned by Her Majesty's Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS), are being digitised in time for next year's centenary of WWI and as part of a larger project to make all war wills publicly available, dating from the Boer War to the Falklands.

As would be expected many of the wills and letters were addressed to family and sweethearts and carried messages of love as well as the concerns and fears that the soldiers felt. Others were more mundane concerning everyday details such as a request for the collection of a prized bicycle from a repair shop.

Military historian Jon Cooksey was quoted by the BBC as saying the documents “are giving us real nuggets of information which are filling the gaps in a man's service record, because it's not just about the military side, it's about their role in society and the backgrounds they came from.” The release of the archive and its digitisation will for the first time make public “…crucial documents for descendants to cast some light on what a life was like at that time.”

Professor Peter Simkins, president of the Western Front Association, said the archive presented "layers of value" for future generations. “At the basic level, it's family interest, then there's the social history because the wills and associated documents contain little nuggets of information such as personal addresses and post marks.” What makes the wills especially interesting to historians and genealogists is the fact that they have been written by the soldiers, rather than officials, as in the case of census data or birth records.


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Category: Archive