Soldiers' Wills - First World War

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Supreme Court of Western Australia deposited many historical court records in the State Records Office (SRO), thereby preserving them for posterity and making them accessible to the public. Among the many thousands of records placed in the care of the SRO were the Grants of Probate, Letters of Administration and Intestate (Public Trustee) files, comprising the wills processed by the Supreme Court from 1832 until 1947.

Over the years SRO staff and various members of the public have noted that these Probate, Administration and Intestate files include the wills and legal documentation of those Western Australians who were killed during the First World War. A key indicator of the scale of the impact of these deaths is the fact that the number of wills processed each year increased three fold between 1914 and 1919.

To mark the Centenary of Anzac and the First World War the SRO has identified over 3,600 wills of military personnel who died during this conflict. Many of these files have been microfilmed and can be viewed at the SRO during normal opening hours.

Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli: courtesy of the Australian War MemorialThe vast majority of the relevant files are clearly identified as being a “Soldiers Estate” and all the files provide basic details of the death of the soldier. On occasion these files also contain surprising historical documents, such as letters to loved ones in Australia, some of which convey the personal and true stories of war.

A list of all the identified Soldiers' Wills can be found here (1.89 MB pdf.) The records are listed in file number order within the consignments of probate, administration and intestate files. The best way to search the list is by pressing the 'Ctrl' and 'F' keys simultaneously on your keyboard and entering the surname of the soldier you are looking for in the relevant search box. The files in Consignments 3403 and 3458 have been micofilmed and are available for viewing at the SRO during our opening hours. To view Cons 5790 files you need to request to view them by registering online as a new user and placing a request via the SRO’s online catalogue. You can also contact the SRO directly by phone on (08) 94273600 or by email to sro@sro.wa.gov.au.

You can request a digitised copy of a probate, administration and intestate file by downloading and completing the Archive Digitisation Request Form and including the consignment and item details for the requested archive.  You can also pay for this service online and details can be found on our archive digitisation services webpage. Digitised copies are provided for personal reference and research. If you have questions about the digitisation service please email sro@sro.wa.gov.au or phone the SRO’s Search Room on (08) 94273600.

Simpson's Will

An example of one of the wills identified among these files is that of John Simpson, also surnamed Kirkpatrick. An Anzac legend, Simpson landed at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915. Simpson's handwritten willAs a member of the field ambulance at Gallipoli, he bravely transported wounded soldiers by donkey from the front line while under heavy fire. Aged only 22, he was killed by a machine gun bullet on 19 May 1915. The tale of “Simpson and his donkey” became the embodiment of the courageous and selfless Anzac spirit, making him one of Australia’s best known war heroes.

John Simpson’s will, dated 6 April 1915, is handwritten on a small piece of note paper in his pay book, and shows he left everything to his mother in South Shields in northern England. Processed by the Court in 1916, like many of the soldiers' wills, it is relatively uncomplicated. It reveals Simpson's personal estate of £37.13s, which was made up of money in a savings bank account and outstanding military pay. Today this amount would be equivalent to about $4500.

John Simpson's Intestate file (Cons 5790, item 1916/221) has been digitised and is available here (2.88 MB pdf).

There is more information about John Simpson Kirkpatrick on the Australian War Memorial's website and you can see his enlistment and service records on the National Archives of Australia's website too.