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.

Kristen Hyde

Kristen is Ancestry's Social Media Manager for the United Kingdom.

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