First World War Wills: more than one million visits to unique WW1 archive

By: In: Scanning & Digitising On: Aug 29, 2014
First World War Wills: more than one million visits to unique WW1 archive

“…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.

Read the HMCTS press release.

Trench tactics

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:

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.”

You can search the online archive for a family member here.

← Celebrate World Paper Free Day by getting paper out of your business processes Gary Blakeley tells the First World War story of Private James McCarthy →

Leave A Comment

About the author

Phil Greenwood

Phil Greenwood is Country Managing Director & Commercial Director at Iron Mountain responsible for delivering information and records management solutions into the UK's largest Public, Private and NHS customers. Phil directs and runs specialist sector teams aligned to the sector specific requirements of Iron Mountain's clients. These requirements demand innovative solutions that deliver compliance and governance as well as efficiency and cost cutting in order to transform business results and improve the way organisations use their information. Phil has over 10 years' experience working with UK and International records management. He is involved with the UK Information and Records Management Society. Phil has worked within service delivery and customer facing roles, as well as in general management roles within the outsourcing and information management industries. Legally qualified, Phil has also spent time as a fee earner within law firms and has a strong understanding of the way that information and services drive the core business of client organisations.