Exploring the stories behind Sam Mendes’ WWI film, 1917

Posted by Kristen Hyde on January 10, 2020 in Entertainment, Research, United Kingdom

Like many, we are eagerly anticipating the new WWI bio-pic by Sam Mendes, 1917 which comes to UK cinemas on Friday, January 10th.

The film has been widely acclaimed for its authenticity and cinematography as it tells the story of two WWI soldiers – William Schofield and Tom Blake – who are sent on a mission in order to stop an attack taking place. Most remarkably, the film is based on the stories of Sam Mendes’ own grandfather during the Great War.

Alfred H. Mendes served with the British Army during the First World War. Given his small frame, Alfred was chosen to be a messenger on the Western Front and was awarded the Military Medal after he volunteered for a dangerous mission to locate injured soldiers scattered across No-Mans Land during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. It was tales from this journey amongst others which helped spark the narrative for the film.

However, it’s not just Sam Mendes who has family history ties to 1917. Through further research, Ancestry® also uncovered lineage for actor George MacKay who plays the film co-lead, Lance Corporal Schofield.

In Mendes’ 1917, George MacKay’s character is tasked alongside Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) to deliver a message deep in enemy territory, a task not too dissimilar from George’s three times great uncle, Albert Victor Baulk. Albert was in fact a signaller for the 196th Siege Battery in Sailly-au-Bois, France just a few miles from the German front lines where Operation Alberich took place and where the film is set. As a signaler and telephonist, Albert would have helped relay crucial communications to his unit just like George’s character in the film.

1917 offers a harrowing glimpse into the experiences soldiers went through during WWI, and certainly prompts a moment of pause at the thought of how our own ancestors may have been involved. Thanks to the detailed records kept during this period of history, Ancestry can help the curious to learn more about the WWI service of their ancestors.

Where to start in the records:

Ancestry® has an abundance of British records from WWI and the database of British Army World War One Service Records is a good place to start your research.

You can also view the British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards which is the most complete listing of people who fought in the British Army in WWI. Nearly all soldiers who served abroad were awarded at least one medal and at 4.8 million people strong, this collection contains 90% of British soldiers’ names.

The WWI Pension Ledgers and Index Cards saved by a UK registered charity called The Western Front Association also offer a large and valuable resource for researching ancestors involved in World War I. The cards not only provide details for the soldiers themselves but those who received pensions if the soldier died in service – valuable information for understanding more about those left at home and extending your family tree.

Curious to understand more about your connection to World War I? To find out more about the real-life events of 1917 and to discover your own family’s story, visit www.ancestry.co.uk.

Past Articles

Immigration Challenges: Tracing Eastern European Jewish family to England

Posted by Kristen Hyde on September 17, 2019 in Guest Bloggers, United Kingdom

Tracing our immigrant ancestors is often more challenging than we might have expected. Ancestry ProGenealogist, Janette Silverman, discusses how your ancestors’ names may have changed alongside their environment. Once I asked a client what her grandparents’ names were. The clients’ parents and grandparents were long deceased, she didn’t have any siblings, and didn’t know her Read More

Find famous names and family members in the Bristol Parish Registers

Posted by Kristen Hyde on September 6, 2019 in Collections, Guest Bloggers, Regional, Research, United Kingdom

Parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials are one of the main staples of the family historian. Anyone tracing their family tree back further than civil registration and the census in England will almost certainly look at these sources. Indeed, many of you will have spent hours scrolling through microfilms of registers in the pursuit Read More

WDYTYA: Katherine Ryan goes in search of her English heritage

Posted by Kristen Hyde on August 21, 2019 in Entertainment, United Kingdom, Who Do You Think You Are?

Canadian-born comedian, Katherine Ryan, turns to family research in search of an ancestral connection to the country she now calls home – England. Ancestry ProGenealogist, Joe Buggy explores her journey and the resources she used along the way.  On this week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, Canadian comedian Catherine Ryan was determined Read More

Making discoveries in the North Lanarkshire Poor Law records

Posted by Kristen Hyde on August 16, 2019 in Uncategorized

Wiebke McGhee, Archivist from the North Lanarkshire Archives, offers insight into the history of the North Lanakarshire Poor Law records and the value these can have when researching your family history in this area.  North Lanarkshire Archives’ Poor Law records originate from civil parishes which existed within the former County of Lanark between 1845 and Read More

WDYTYA: Exploring the Grenadian and Jamaican roots of Naomie Harris

Posted by Kristen Hyde on August 1, 2019 in Collections, Entertainment, Guest Bloggers, United Kingdom, Who Do You Think You Are?

Naomie Harris confronts the complexity of her Grenadian and Jamaican roots in her emotional episode of Who Do You Think You Are? Ancestry ProGenealogist, Joanna Cicely Fennell, revisits Naomie’s story and offers her tips for exploring Caribbean ancestry. This latest episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featured British actress Naomie Harris, best known Read More

8 historic photos of Wimbledon through the years

Posted by Kristen Hyde on July 1, 2019 in United Kingdom

It’s the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. Known to many as simply ‘Wimbledon’, The Championships is attended not only by the best tennis players in the world, but some of society’s most famous icons. Founded in 1877, Wimbledon takes place over two weeks in June and July every year and is Read More

75 years on: Ancestry remembers the Normandy Landings with a special D-Day collection

Posted by Kristen Hyde on June 5, 2019 in Collections, Research, United Kingdom

June 6th 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the pivotal moment in WWII that began the liberation of German-occupied France and paved the way for the Allied victory and the end of the war. Also known as the Normandy Landings and codenamed Operation Neptune, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history, with soldiers Read More