1917 - behind the scenes - interview with the film's military historian


10 January 2020
1917 is already gaining many plaudits and award nominations, and thanks to the work of people behind the scenes, such as military historian Andy Robertshaw, it aims to be as historically accurate as it is action packed. Family Tree caught up with Andy to find out more…

Family Tree: How did you get involved in 1917 Andy?
Andy: “Er, well, basically I was recommended by… Steven Spielberg … and Peter Jackson, and Adam Sumner.”

‘Nuff said!
Interviews then followed these recommendations to see whether Andy was the right person to be the military historian on 1917 and he was sent the script to read through.

Andy: “When it arrived I realised that it was dedicated to Alfred H Mendes. I’d already read his autobiography, published by the University of the West Indies Press. And I went online and fortunately found his complete Service Record. Everything then became clear and I was able to trace his journey.”

Andy Robertshaw’s life-long interest in military history enabled him to see the significance of the details he found in the records and such evidence was crucial in the accurate re-telling of the heroic chapter in Alfred H Mendes’ life – when he’s ordered to sprint and deliver a message that will save hundreds of men from their deaths.

Family Tree: Did anything in particular strike you about this remarkable life story?
Andy: “Although Alfred H Mendes was mixed race (Portuguese Creole), there was clearly no ‘colour bar’. From Alfred’s service records I’d already seen that he’d qualified as a bomber. But it was his discharge papers that really clinched it. These state that he was a signaller – and this tallies with him being a runner.”

Family Tree: It’s really exciting to hear how you’ve used family and military history research skills, and the film’s clearly an awesome watch too. Tell us why you’d recommend it.
Andy: “It shows a piece of the war that’s not normally seen and allows the public to see the war with grass and trees. And the ‘one-take’ is very clever too, enthralling watching. It allows complete flow through and makes it feel so realistic. On set, we all spent a lot of time looking at the sky, waiting for the light and conditions to be right.”

Clearly time well-spent for such an award-winning end result.

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1917 is in the cinemas now.

Military historian Andy Robertshaw, among his amazing work for Stephen Spielberg on War Horse and Peter Jackson on They Shall Not Grow Old has also worked with Family Tree - see his video here.

And he's also created a really useful video guide, downloadable for £7.99 and packed with military history advice to help you learn about your WW1 Tommy’s equipment and service records to help you trace and understand his war years. 




To trace your ancestors’ Army service records see, for instance, collections that Andy used:
Ancestry’s WW1 service and pension records
Findmypast’s collection 1760 to 1914

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