Ministry of Justice
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Final words of fallen heroes unearthed

The poignant last words of thousands of brave World War 1 soldiers who died for their country are revealed as we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The private messages of soldiers who died fighting for the country are part of the England and Wales online archive of 278,000 soldiers’ wills. The wills, which were carried around by soldiers at all times in a pocket book tucked into their uniform, represent their last ever personally written record.

The 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. More than 1 million searches have already been made.

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…

Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said:

On this day it is important we remember those who laid down their lives for our country.

We should never forget the sacrifices these men and women made and this valuable archive of wills helps preserve the memories of our fallen soldiers for generations to come.

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. Often they used their will to write letters to their loved ones. Many of these historic documents show the terrible damage suffered during the war.

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.

Notes to editors

  • There have been 1,767,446 will searches to date and more than 17,000 people have purchased copies of documents.

  • Members of the public can search the records and order copies of the documents from GOV.UK.

  • HMCTS is an agency of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). 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)
    • 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.

  • 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 theirwebsitefor more information.

  • For further information contact the MOJ Press Office on 020 3334 3536 or Berkeley PR for Iron Mountain on 0118 909 0909.


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