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The WWI hero who was as brave on the battlefield as he was bold in the bedroom

It is the most eagerly anticipated film of the new year – a lavish, nerve-shredding World War One epic already tipped to storm the 2020 Oscars. Directed by Sam Mendes and shot in what appears to be one remarkable single take, 1917 tells the story of two young lance corporals given the perilous task of crossing no man's land to deliver a vital message with the lives of 1,600 men in the balance.Boasting a glittering cast of British talent including Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth and Bodyguard star Richard Madden, the movie has already been hailed by critics as a masterpiece – and a highly personal one at that.For the script was inspired by Sam Mendes's late grandfather, Alfred Mendes, who was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery and to whom the film is dedicated.At the age of 20, Alfred had volunteered for a terrifying solo mission to report on the forward location of three British companies stretched out near the Passchendaele Ridge and the Belgian village of Poelcappelle.And it is his grandfather's all-too-real journey through the mud, snipers and shells of the Flanders trenches that sits at the heart of the movie, released on January 10. 'I had a story that was a fragment told to me by my grandfather, who fought in the First World War,' said 54-year-old Mendes, the director of American Beauty and the James Bond films Skyfall and Spectre. 'It's the story of a messenger who has a message to carry. And that's all I can say. It lodged with me as a child, this story, or this fragment, and obviously I've enlarged it and changed it significantly. But it has that at its core.'His grandfather's heroism was by no means the end of the story however, for Alfred Mendes, an accomplished author and novelist, went on to write his own life story in a compelling memoir published 11 years after his death.Now out of print, the Autobiography of Alfred H Mendes 1897-1991 has been tracked down by The Mail on Sunday and reveals not just a gripping account of his war-time bravery, but a personal life so colourful that it would have seemed barely credible by the buttoned-up standards of his day.There were times, indeed, when Alfred's love life seemed to rival that of 007 himself, the most famous subject of his director grandson Sam.Alfred Hubert Mendes was born on the Caribbean island of Trinidad in 1897 and educated at a boarding school in Hertfordshire. Despite the disapproval of his Portuguese Creole parents, Alfred decided to enlist and fight on behalf of Great Britain and the Empire in the First World War, joining up in 1916 aged just 19.But when he was dispatched to the town of Oisemont near Dieppe to train as a signaller, he was dismayed, writing that, 'I had no interest in the subject, not that one's aptitudes or tastes were ever considered in time of war'.Yet it was in Oisemont that he met one of the greatest loves of his life, Lucille Sannier, the 18-year-old daughter of a local bar owner. 'As it turned out, my four-week stay in Oisemont, a little north east of Dieppe, was to offer me a course in love-making,' wrote Alfred, or Alfy as he was known. 'I do not say this flippantly because in retrospect I think that I loved Lucille Sannier with the ardour and passion of few other loves in my long life.'It lasted only for the four-week period, but while it lasted it… filled me with so much rapture it left me with the feeling that the relationship spanned four years instead of four weeks.' Alfred remembered Lucille as 'blonde, blue-eyed, her figure perfect in its proportions... She spoke her language as if it was music. Always there was a hint of mischief in her expressions, bright or sombre. She was an exquisite creature.'They kissed the night they met and the following night, became lovers. 'I discovered her to be a virgin,' he wrote.'We saw each other every night, and each night was more ecstatic than the night before. On our last night, we clung to each other in desperation and in the morning bade each other au revoir.'The urgency with which they consummated their lovemaking was common among those facing possible death. As Alfred explained, their first commandment was: 'Thou shalt make the most of physical pleasures, for life is brief – all too brief, these women said, to leave this world a virgin.'After completing his training as a signaller, Alfred was sent to the Third Battle of Ypres and the village of Passchendaele, where, on October 12, 1917, he volunteered for a mission of the utmost peril.Just after first light that day, hundreds of men were sent to hold Poelcappelle, near the Passchendaele Ridge. It had been a disaster: 158 of the 484 men in Alfred's battalion were killed, wounded or missing and survivors were scattered over miles of water-filled craters. The only way to find them was to send messengers through the mud of no man's land. 'I had done a signalling course and although it bore little relationship to the job at hand, I felt myself under an obligation to the battalion,' he wrote. 'I volunteered.'As he set off, the drizzle had ceased and the mist had lifted, giving German snipers and nests of machine-gunners a better chance of seeing him.At first, bullets whizzed past his head, yet the assault eventually faded. He believed the Germans were disconcerted to see a lone man wandering around and decided not to target him. 'Or they may have thought me plain crazy,' he wrote.He was able to locate many of the survivors and arrived safely back at the C Company trench 'without a scratch but with a series of hair-raising experiences that would keep my grand and great-grandchildren enthralled for nights on end'.He had even managed to capture ten German prisoners whom he encount ...Read more

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