“…mother dear do not lose heart, I may come back again…”
One year after its launch, Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service’s (HMCTS) online archive of WWI soldiers’ wills has been searched more than one million times. The impressive archive of 280,000 soldiers’ wills was released in the run-up to the centenary of the start of the Great War as part of the Government’s drive to modernise and enhance access to its services. The digitised documents are part of the huge archive of 41 million wills Iron Mountain preserves on behalf of HMCTS.
A century ago, after the German advance was halted at the First Battle of the Marne, forces on both sides tried to outflank each other in what became known as the Race to the Sea. The British Expeditionary Force was deployed around Ypres (Ieper), in the Belgian Westhoek to help protect the North Sea ports. Both sides dug in and the first major trench lines were soon established. By 1915, the vast network of trenches that defined the Western Front stretched 475 miles from Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast to the Swiss border.
Soldiers’ wills – messages to the living
When British soldiers moved to the frontlines they completed a will that each soldier then carried as part of his Army Pay Book (AB64) tucked into his uniform. The precious document meant that the soldier’s estate would be administered according to his wishes, in the event of his death. Many used the wills to record heartfelt messages for their loved ones. See more at: http://blogs.ironmountain.co.uk/2013/public-sector/the-war-wills-of-ww1-a-unique-archive
The human cost of war
The outlook for the soldiers heading for the front lines was poor: more than half of all soldiers would be wounded and one in four heading for the trench warfare of the Western Front would not return home. Each of the 280,000 soldiers’ wills in the HMCTS archive marks a tragedy. The precious documents likely carry the final words of many of the rank and file soldiers of the lost generation.
In the announcement to mark the success of war will digitisation project, Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said:
“The high level of interest in the project’s first year reminds us just how well regarded our brave soldiers remain one century on from the start of this conflict. I encourage anyone who has not yet done so to take the opportunity to hear the thoughts and emotions of these soldiers who died for their country in their own words.”