The wills of 26,000 Scottish soldiers who died in the Great War are to be made available online for the first time as part of centenary commemorations marking the outbreak of WWI, the First Minister Alex Salmond announced today (Monday, February 24).
Among the 26,000 individual wills are 2,584 from the Gordon Highlanders, including those of Privates Alexander Craig and John Wood from Portlethen, just two of about 9,500 men who died during the conflict.
During WW1, when a will was processed by military authorities it was sent to the Commissary Office in Edinburgh to be preserved in the National Records of Scotland. During 2014, the last wishes of 26,000 fallen Scottish First World War soldiers will be made available online by the National Records of Scotland.
Privates Alexander Craig and John Wood were both born in Portlethen into fishing families, but when war broke out in August 1914 it was the army that they joined, along with many other men of this coastal community.
Wood served in the 1/5th Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, while Craig was in the 1/7th Battalion along with many men from the district. In autumn 1916 these two battalions formed part of the 51st Highland Division, tasked with the capture of part of the German lines at Beaumont Hamel in the final phase of the Battle of the Somme.
Welcoming the project, the First Minister said:
“This year, when we mark the centenary of the start of the Great War, we reflect on the sacrifices made by generations of service men and women, including those currently serving.
“Digitally archiving all 26,000 wills online presents a unique glimpse into the lives of the individuals who fought and fell for our freedom.
“The two wills are small but powerful documents. Both Private Craig and Private Wood wrote their wills on the special page of their pay books, and simply stated that 'in the event of my death I give the whole of my property and effects to my father’.
“What we can see from this remarkable document is that Private John Wood poignantly wrote out his will on the morning of 13 November 1916, just before going over the top to attack the German positions.
“Both men were killed in action in the attack. Craig was 25, and Wood just 18.”
The 1/5th Battalion lost some 60 men and 6 officers, and the 1/7th about 74 men. The 51st Highland Division captured its objectives on 13 November and its success cemented the Division’s reputation as a fine fighting force.”
Brigadier David Allfrey MBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and member of the Scottish Commemorations Panel, said:
"Access to the wills of these young men will help current and future generations learn more about the soldiers, their families and circumstances at a pivotal time in our nation's history. I have little doubt this will prove to be a particularly popular project as we commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War."
Commenting on the WWI commemoration programme, the First Minister continued:
“Throughout 2014 people in communities across Scotland will gather together and remember the exceptional sacrifice made by their sons during the brutal conflicts of the Great War.
“As well as marking the outbreak of war with a Drumhead Service at Edinburgh Castle, this programme will see commemorations of major military battles with a particular resonance for Scotland, such as those at Loos and Arras, and the observance of the anniversary of significant domestic events, such as the train crash at Quintinshill and the loss of HM Iolaire.
“By reflecting on these devastating events, and the consequences they had for communities the length and breadth of Scotland, we will help people of all ages in this country understand more about the futility of war and strengthen our resolve to never let a tragedy like the Great War happen again.”