Last updated at 14:21 BST, Friday, 30 August 2013

World War I wills

Summary

30 August 2013

The last wishes, thoughts and concerns of more than 230,000 soldiers who died in World War I are to be made available online.

Reporter:

Martin Vennard

Will from WWI soldier

This will left everything to the soldier's mother

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Report

The wills and letters that accompanied them give a picture of the lives and loves of the some of the millions of soldiers who served in the First World War.

They tell of the family and friends that the men at the front had left behind.

The following are extracts from those written by Privates Harry Lewis Lincoln and Joseph Witchburn:

Private Harry Lewis Lincoln:
My dearest Clara, I have been expecting a letter from you. I expect you thought I might not get it. But you can always write to the last address. It will always find me, dear Clara.

Private Joseph Witchburn:
If I get killed in active service there will be a medal for me somewhere, and I hope you will try to get it and keep it for the boy to wear when he grows up.

Historian Peter Simkins described his emotion on locating, through the archive, the will of his great-uncle Frank Hill, who went missing on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey in 1918.

Peter Simkins:
I was staggered that this, not only at the speed at which it was located and sent to me but also by the fact that here was something I thought I'd never see.

The British troops kept their wills tucked in their uniforms inside their pocket service books.

Once the men died the wills were collected by the military authorities.

Now, the first batch of some 230,000 of the surviving documents have been digitised and put online.

Among other wills that have been made available are those of a professional footballer and the grandfather of the musician Mick Fleetwood.

The wills, which belong to the British state, are being digitised in time for next year's centenary of the start of World War I.

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Vocabulary

wills

documents which say what a person wants to happen to their money and property after they die

the front

places where armies face each other and fight

extracts

short sections taken from longer writing

in active service

while fighting in a war (for an army)

locating

finding

peninsula

a long piece of land that sticks out into a lake or sea

staggered

very shocked and surprised

tucked

stored safely in a small place

batch

group (of similar things)

digitised

changed into a digital form so it can be stored on a computer

centenary

(day or year) 100 years after an event

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