The forgotten letters of World War One: Never before seen love notes and final wishes of thousands of soldiers killed in the trenches finally revealed 100 years after being written

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Written in their own hand, the century-old personal letters were never released to loved-ones as officially they belonged to the War Office and the Government

Letters containing the final wishes of thousands of soldiers killed during World War One have been published online.

Written in their own hand, many of the wills are attached to century-old personal letters that were intended to be opened by loved-ones if the soldiers’ died.

Rather than being posted to the soldiers’ family and friends however, the letters were left locked in sealed archive boxes for almost 100 years.

John Apthorpe, commercial director of Iron Mountain, holds the will of George Peachment who died during World War I John Apthorpe, commercial director of Iron Mountain, holds the will of George Peachment who died during World War I

Now the letters have finally seen the light of day, thanks to the work of record management company Iron Mountain, who teamed up with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to painstakingly index, scan and upload thousands of wills and letters from the deceased soldiers.

The archive was finally launched to the public today.

Click here to view a gallery of the letters

General view of the wills of soldiers who died during World War I. The wills of over 320,000 soldiers from World War I are stored in the Iron Mountain facility on the outskirts of Birmingham General view of the wills of soldiers who died during World War I. The wills of over 320,000 soldiers from World War I are stored in the Iron Mountain facility on the outskirts of Birmingham

In one of the letters, written on August 10, 1914, Private Joseph Witchburn of 2nd Battalion The Durham Light Infantry tells his mother: “I dare say this will be the last letter you will receive from me until the war is over, as I am prepared to move to the front at any moment”.

An official government record attached to the letter shows that died “of his wounds” just over a month later, on September 14, 1914.

Leading British historian John Cooksey was given advance access to the archive, and praised it as a massive help to historians which “pieces together the mosaic of facts that give us the real men”.

Another letter in the archive belonged to John Fleetwood, the grandfather of Fleetwood Mac star Mick Fleetwood. In Mr Fleetwood’s will it is revealed the solider died of dysentery in a Maltese hospital after being taken ill in Gallipoli.

The will of Private John Fleetwood, grandfather of Mick Fleetwood, who died during World War I The will of Private John Fleetwood, grandfather of Mick Fleetwood, who died during World War I

John Apthorne, Iron Mountain’s commercial director, said: “With 23,000 individuals who died in the war, the emotions [revealed by the letters] are quite interesting when you read some of the notes they left”.

He added: “A lot have straightforward statements, but some of them do have personal letters and touches, and a bit more detail on what’s happening”.

Before the archive was set-up, the World War One wills were accessible via direct request only, and without prior knowledge of if, when and where a relative wrote one, the chance of finding a record of an ancestor was very slim.

Professor Peter Simkins of The Western Front Association views the will of his great uncle Frank Hill, who was killed in World War I. Professor Peter Simkins of The Western Front Association views the will of his great uncle Frank Hill, who was killed in World War I.

For the most part the archive is full of short-form wills that were handed out to soldiers by their superiors as they set off for war. The impersonal nature of these records led many soldiers to attach a personal note which they hoped would be read to loved ones in the event of their death.

Tragically these letters were never sent to beneficiaries however, as officially they belonged to the War Office and the Government.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin