Historic Hitchin link to Oscar-winning World War One epic

PUBLISHED: 13:56 02 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:21 10 February 2020

1917.  Picture: Universal/Amblin

1917. Picture: Universal/Amblin

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Hitchin has its very own historic link to an Oscar-winning film that has stormed to success in recent weeks.

Since its release last month, people have been flocking to watch the epic war film 1917 - with most viewers unaware of the impact Hitchin had on the critically acclaimed film and its director.

At last night's Oscars, 1917 scooped up multiple awards including: Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects.

Sam Mendes, 1917's director, was inspired to tell his fictional tale based on stories relayed to him by his grandfather and former Hitchin Boys' School alumnus, Alfred, who served during The Great War.

Speaking on a Variety podcast last year, Mendes said 1917 stemmed from "a fragment [of a story] told by my grandfather".

He added: "It's the story of a messenger who has a message to carry. It lodged with me as a child, this story or fragment, and obviously I have enlarged and changed it significantly."

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On the morning of October 12, 1917, at the Battle of Poelcappelle in Belgium, Alfred volunteered to be the runner who would track down three dispersed units, embarking upon a life-threatening mission that would take him through No Man's Land.

After recovering the three companies, Alfred wrote: "In spite of the snipers, machine-gunners and the shells, I arrived back without a scratch, but with a series of hair-raising experiences that would keep my grand and great-grandchildren enthralled for nights on end."

It appears that this story, that is so vividly recounted in Alfred's autobiography, forms the crux of 1917's plot - where two British soldiers are in a race against time to deliver a message that could save thousands of lives.

Born in 1897, Alfred spent most of his formative years in Trinidad, but was enrolled at a boarding school in Hitchin at the age of 15.

From 1912, Alfred spent two and half years at Hitchin Boys' School, and describes his time here in his autobiography: "Fresh faces, unfamiliar clothes, winter, strange landscapes and stranger skies... A new way of life. I revelled in it."

Later in life, Alfred was recognised for his work as a novelist and short story writer. His autobiography, written in the 1970s, was published posthumously in 2002.

1917 was nominated for 10 categories at the 92nd Academy Awards, including the prestigious Best Picture..


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