The wills of 278,000 soldiers who died in the first world war are entered into a special government archive
The first world war soldier’s pocket book contained, among other things, an informal will. These books were carried by all servicemen throughout the war. For many years, the last wills and testaments of nearly 300,000 soldiers who died in battle were left decaying and unpreserved in archives around the country. Recently, the original copies of these wills have been collected and preserved in a digital archive set up by the government.
The handwritten wills, carried by the soldiers at all times, were meant to ensure their wages, personal effects and estates were distributed in accordance with their last wishes. Often mud-stained, torn and written in pencil, many of the wills were composed as letters, describing life and circumstances on the battlefield.
The vast majority of wills written on the battlefield left everything to soldiers’ mothers
While preserving the wills, archivists noticed that the vast majority of soldiers left their estates to their mothers. Again and again, soldiers from different regiments, from different parts of the UK, fighting in different locations in Europe left their belongings to their mothers. While a few soldiers left their estates to fathers, wives or girlfriends, the majority of soldiers who died on the battlefield listed their mothers as sole beneficiaries.
Often, the wills included very moving and personal messages to their mothers. It may be that these men, dying in war, in the end turned to their mothers with one final expression of love.