By Claire West

HMCTS is releasing the Probate Office’s huge archive of 280,000 soldiers’ wills ahead of next year’s First World War centenary. Members of the public can now search an online database for a will left by a relative who died in battle, or any other soldier they are interested in learning about, and request copies of any available documents.

Every soldier had to complete a will before they headed to the front line so that 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.

Courts Minister Helen Grant said:
‘This fascinating project has opened the door to a whole new insight on our war heroes — it has given us the opportunity for the first time to hear the thoughts and emotions of the brave soldiers who died for this country in their own words.

‘It is a great example of the innovation going on throughout Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service to provide a modern and efficient service to the public.’

The WW1 wills form part of the archive of 41 million records held by the Probate Service since 1858 which HMCTS is currently in the process of making available to the public, in partnership with technology provider Iron Mountain.

Later this year all the records will be made available through a new online service, enabling members of the public to easily request copies of the documents.