SOLDIERS’ WILLS ON ODD SCRAPS IN 1915

Saturday, April 3, 1915

In rest billets northern outskirts of Estaires

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: Nothing No details recorded [1]

03 April 15THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: “London.  Since the war the work of the department at Somerset House where wills can be proved personally by executors without the assistance of lawyers has been nearly trebled.  Over sixty wills a day are proved there.  The great majority are the wills of soldiers killed in action.

These are sometimes a puzzle to the officials.  They are written on all sorts of queer pieces of paper, often on the back of the envelope of a letter received from home just before the dead man went under fire, and found in his tunic afterwards.

The widows receive these wills and are generally the people who have come to prove them.  The use of the department is not confined to the executors of small legacies.  This year a department record was established by proof of a will for over a million pounds.  Its three executors took their turn with the poor folk, filled in the application form, and proved the will without the help of a solicitor.  The fees payable to the department in this case were only about $500.  The charge for proving wills is according to the amount of money involved.”    [2]

Canadian soldiers didn’t have to use odd scraps of paper to write a will. “The final pages of the Canadian Army Pay Book carried by all soldiers [but not officers]* contained a sample will, along with instructions on the process for writing both a ‘formal’ and a ‘military’ will.  A ‘formal’ will dealt with the soldier’s property and possessions at home and was to be completed using an appropriate form in the presence of two witnesses and a ‘testator,’ likely a commanding officer.  A ‘military will’ referred to a soldier’s personal effects, including any wages owed at the time of death.  The soldier’s pay book would usually  have a note  that on a certain date he had completed a ‘Military Will’ that was forwarded to the ‘Officer, i/c Estates Branch’ in Canada for safekeeping.”   [3] 

* Note:  Canadian Officers did not carry pay books because they were required to open bank accounts in London into which their pay was credited.

[1]    War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, April 3, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089714.jpg
[2]   “Soldiers’ Wills On Odd Scraps,” The Citizen, Ottawa, Ontario, Friday, April 2, 1915, pg. 6, col. 4.
[3]    Bruce F. MacDonald; extracted from: http://guysboroughgreatwarveterans.blogspot.ca/2011/12/soldiers-wage.html
[4]   Canadian Pay Book for use on Active Service, Army Book 64 - 2 September 1918  (pay book 15 x 10 cm), William Harris fonds (Harris,William-CBDOC-2(g);  New Brunswick Museum, http://website.nbm-mnb.ca/MOP/english/ww1/dosearch.asp?browse=36&results=10&all=true

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