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Empire soldiers' wills go online
Archivist Rosalind Caird, right, and Chancellor Canon Chris Pullin with the King's Writ, front, and the Magna Carta at Hereford Cathedral (Hereford Cathedral Perpetual Trust)
The last wishes of thousands of soldiers killed in the First World War and unseen for a century are being made available online.
The wills of 230,000 British Empire soldiers written in their own hand have been placed on a new website allowing families and historians to view them for the first time.
About 5% of the wills contain a treasure trove of personal letters penned by the soldiers and intended for loved ones back home but which were never posted.
Instead, those letters have lain alongside the writers' wills in row upon row of sealed archive boxes for 100 years, until now.
In one such letter, written on August 10 1914, Pte 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 anonymous government official recorded on his will that he died of his wounds on September 14 1914.
Another will belonging to John Fleetwood, the grandfather of rock band Fleetwood Mac's Mick Fleetwood, reveals his death from dysentery in a hospital in Malta on December 30 1915, after serving in Gallipoli.
That document was discovered by leading British historian Jon Cooksey who was given access to the new database before the website launch.
He praised the value of the archive and said: "What this does is help us, as historians, piece together the mosaic of facts which give us the real men."
Archivists at specialist record management company Iron Mountain spent five months first indexing and then painstakingly scanning by hand the soldiers' wills so they could be put onto a computer and then online.