Sidney Reilly, the secret agent widely believed to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s legendary character James Bond, has been uncovered in a very un-Bondlike location: an online archive.
The record (shown above) was found in the British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 collection, which details medals earned by more than 4.8 million WWI soldiers. It reveals that Reilly’s Military Cross was issued for service in the Royal Flying Corps.
Sidney Reilly, known as the “Ace of Spies,” was an agent for Scotland Yard’s Special Branch. In 1918 Reilly joined Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming, the first director of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), as an operative for MI1 (a predecessor to MI6). His friend Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart knew Ian Fleming for many years and told him of Reilly’s espionage exploits. Later Fleming allegedly mentioned to a colleague at the Sunday Times that he had created Bond after hearing about Reilly.
In typical secret-agent fashion, much of Reilly’s life is shrouded in mystery. It is alleged that he worked undercover and stole revolutionary aircraft engine parts and weapon plans from the Germans before the First World War even began. He was then dispatched on counter-Bolshevik operations in Germany and Russia during the conflict itself. He did travel to the U.S. from Russia in 1915 with new wife Nadine (Nadezhda) Zalessky, as shown in this ship’s manifest. Like Bond, he was known as a womaniser, though unlike Fleming’s character, Reilly married several times (not always bothering with the formality of a divorce in between).
Reilly’s medal was awarded for his “distinguished services rendered in connection with military operations in the field,” which are said to have included parachuting behind enemy lines and disguising himself as a German officer in order to obtain undercover information.
His record is one of thousands of medal cards online, revealing the medals awarded to each First World War soldier. In addition, more than 50,000 of these cards also list details of covert operations undertaken or letters from next of kin on their reverse side, meaning thousands of people today can track down find the spy in their own family.
Ancestry’s researchers have also found another interesting James Bond-related fact: Daniel Craig is actually the half 19th cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, his on-screen partner in crime during the acclaimed opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
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