This tiny photograph is both the smallest and one of the most unusual items in our extensive collection of soldiers’ wills and testaments.
The photograph belonged to Thomas Walker, who had been an Edinburgh wood machinist living at his brother’s residence before he enlisted to fight in World War I.
Walker was killed in action one hundred years ago today on 28 June 1918 at Merville in France.
Earlier in 1918, Walker – Private Thomas Nicholl Walker, 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB), to give him his full name and rank – had written a will on the back of this photograph. The photograph, which measures just 42 x 62 mm (less than 1.75 x 2.5 inches), was found in his belongings after his death.
Walker’s will is a puzzle. He left all his ‘personal belongings’ to Mrs S Brown, 81 Queen Street, Dumfries. She appears to be Sarah Brown, a widow who ran a boarding house, but was not a close relative. After the war it was Walker’s widow, Lizzie, who claimed her husband’s war medals.
Walker had formerly served with 5/6 Battalion, Royal Scots, an amalgamation in June 1916 of the 1/5 and 1/6 Battalions, which had both served in Egypt. The 1/5 Battalion also fought at Gallipoli.
The snapshot apparently shows Royal Scots soldiers in glengarry caps, solar helmets and shorts, suitable for Middle East service. Perhaps one of these men is Walker himself, but we currently have no way to tell.
Walker probably belonged to 1/5 or 1/6 Territorial Battalion of the Royal Scots. His body lies buried in Thiennes Cemetery, Tannay, with 18 KOSB comrades killed the same day.
Next to Walker’s gravestone is that of Robert Burns Clark, a 19 year-old from Leith, which bears the motto ‘Peace Perfect Peace’.
On the other side lies George Jackson Hutchison, a promising artist, aged 22, the son of Robert Gemmell Hutchison RSA, a well-known painter of Scottish rural life. For his stone, his parents chose to quote his touching words: ‘Tell mother not to worry.’
Also buried at Thiennes Cemetery is Private Archibald James Shanks Morrison, who was killed in action a month earlier, on 23 May 1918. Morrison’s name was recently added to the First World War memorial at the University of Glasgow, as he was one of nineteen former students whose association with the institution had only recently been discovered.
Morrison’s will, in which he left his possessions to his mother, is also part of our collection.
You can find guidance on searching our collection of soldiers’ wills here, including soldiers who fought in the First World War and other conflicts between 1857 and 1965.