Northern Ireland

Poignant WWI memento

James Delaney from Belfast marked his will with an X
Image caption James Delaney from Belfast marked his will with an X

A recent BBC Newsline report on the wills of Irish soldiers has prompted a relative of a Belfast soldier to visit the National Archives in Dublin to find out more about the last wishes of his great-grandfather.

The wills of 9,000 Irish soldiers who died in World War I have been put on the internet by the Republic's National Archives.

The documents reveal the last wishes of the soldiers, many of them Ulstermen.

James Delaney, a 48-year-old father-of-five, was killed in action in December 1916.

His great-grandson James White said he was surprised to hear about the Soldiers Wills project.

"My mother Mary White, nee Delaney, only passed away last September which makes it all the more poignant for my family and I to learn more about my great-grandfather," said James White.

'Quite poignant'

James Delaney left all his possessions to his wife Ellen and signed his will with an X.

"My great-grandfather could not read or write," explains James White.

Image caption James White's great-grandfather, James Delaney, was killed in December 1916

"His last farewell must have been quite poignant because he and my great-grandmother were possibly never going to communicate again.

"His will is really something special and I'm very privileged to actually see the document."

Although about 35,000 Irish men died in action, only 9,000 wills have survived.

"I admire his stoicism, his great endurance without complaint, to look after his wife and children he entered the war and paid the ultimate price," said James White.

'Speculate'

The wills were originally processed by the War Office in London, then sent to the Probate Office in Dublin and from there to the National Archives where until now they were inaccessible to the public.

"We can only speculate that the soldiers were encouraged to make wills," said archivist Hazel Menton.

"That said, young men heading off to war don't think they have anything to leave, but in fact their belongings would have been sold and the money and Army pay given to their family.

"The only First World War collection in the National Archives in Ireland are the soldiers' wills and they are searchable by name.

"Anyone looking for service records of men who served in the British Army would need to go to the National Archives in the UK."

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission also has a searchable database of everyone buried or commemorated in their graveyards.

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