Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has embarked on a massive digitisation project. Working in conjunction with Iron Mountain, they today released a database of the wills of soldiers who died in World War I.
During the war, soldiers were required to write a will when enlisting. The will was to be kept in their pocket service books, along with other documents, and carried on their person throughout the war.
In addition to the wills, there are often letters addressed to girlfriends, wives, and other family members left at home. All of these documents are stored at Iron Mountain in 1,300 cardboard boxes. HMCTS started the digitisation project to have the records available in time for the 100th anniversary of the start of the war next year. (Americans, please remember that the war started three years before our participation began in 1917!)
These wills represent the final wishes of more than 230,000 soldiers who went off to battle but never returned home. The wills mention family and friends. They also discuss the final disposition of property, both real and personal.
In addition to the wills, soldiers also often tucked letters in the pocket book. These were often written to wives and girlfriends, but they might also be addressed to parents, children, or other family or friends. Unfortunately, these letters often mentioned confidential information, such as the soldier’s place of station or plans to be moved. Because of this, the letters were often never turned over to family members and addressees. They were, however, filed with the wills. Whilst this is sad for the family, it is fortunate for us as researchers, as the letters are also part of the digitisation project.
Searching the database is simple. You need only the surname of the soldier and the year of death. The results show the soldier’s surname, first name, regimental number, and date of death. This information should be enough for you to pinpoint your ancestor.
Wills are £6.00. It may take up to ten days before you can access some of the wills. Once accessible, you can look at it for 31 days. You need to register in advance, providing your email address and creating a password. This email will be how you access the records. You can request multiple documents in a single order.
A huge number of British families had members who fought in the war. And many never returned home. This new database is a wonderful new way to access information about them. Better news is that this is part of a larger effort by HMCTS to digitise more than a century of soldiers’ wills, from 1850 to 1986. Visit the government website and get started searching right away.