Press release

Over one million searches for war heroes’ wills

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A huge collection of poignant messages from Britain’s fallen First World War heroes has been viewed more than one million times.

The heartfelt documents, detailing soldiers’ last wishes, were put online last year by HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to enable people to search for what may have been the final messages sent home by their relatives.

In one handwritten message available in the database, a soldier writes: “…I am only sorry that I did not see you all before I went but…mother dear do not lose heart I may come back again…”

Every soldier had to complete a will before they headed to the front line so their estate could be dealt with if they lost their life. They carried a copy with them and many used the will to write letters to their loved ones, expressing their feelings. Many of the historic documents show the physical damage suffered in the war.

Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said:

I am pleased so many people have taken advantage of this fascinating project, which has opened the door to a whole new insight on our war heroes.

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.

This project is a great example of the innovation going on throughout HMCTS to provide a modern and efficient service to the public.

The Probate Office’s huge archive of 278,000 soldiers’ wills was released in the run-up to the centenary of the start of the Great War, which began on July 28, 1914, as part of the government’s wider drive to modernise and open up its services.

The digitised documents are part of the huge archive of 41 million wills preserved by Iron Mountain on behalf of HMCTS.

Phil Greenwood, Commercial Director at Iron Mountain, said:

This precious archive contains the last words of many of Britain’s fallen WW1 heroes. The handwritten wills are a valuable resource for historians, genealogists and the general public, adding rich detail to the stories of our brave ancestors.

Iron Mountain is working with HM Courts & Tribunals Service to preserve and protect the precious paper documents. The easy to use web portal has made it straightforward for anyone to request scanned copies of the wills.

The fact so many searches have been made just one year on from the online launch is testament to our nation’s pride in those who gave their lives for our future.

Notes to editors

  1. There have been 1,070,984 will searches to date and more than 10,000 people have purchased copies of documents.
  2. Members of the public can search the records and order copies of the documents. The fee for ordering a copy is £10.
  3. HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is an agency of the Ministry of Justice. The agency is responsible for the administration of the criminal, civil and family courts and tribunals in England and Wales and non-devolved tribunals in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It provides for a fair, efficient and effective justice system delivered by an independent judiciary. The Probate Service forms part of the Family Division of the High Court. It deals with ‘non-contentious’ probate business (where there is no dispute about the validity of a will or entitlement to take a grant), and issues grants of representation, which are known as either.
    • Probate (when the deceased person left a valid will and an executor is acting)
    • Letters of administration with will (when a person has left a valid will but no executor is acting) or
    • Letters of administration (usually when there is no valid will). The Probate Service holds all probate records issued since it was established in 1858. It has a statutory duty to allow access to the index of all grants issued since 1858 and provide copies of them on payment of a statutory fee.
  4. Iron Mountain Incorporated (NYSE: IRM) is a leading provider of storage and information management services. The company’s real estate network of over 67 million square feet across more than 1,000 facilities in 36 countries allows it to serve customers with speed and accuracy. And its solutions for records management, data management, document management, and secure shredding help organisations to lower storage costs, comply with regulations, recover from disaster, and better use their information for business advantage. Founded in 1951, Iron Mountain stores and protects billions of information assets, including business documents, backup tapes, electronic files and medical data. Visit www.ironmountain.co.uk for more information.
  5. For further information contact the Ministry of Justice Press Office on 020 3334 3536 or Berkeley PR for Iron Mountain on 0118 909 0909.