US & Canada

'Suddenly real': Colour brings new life to archival WW1 photos

Canadian wounded enjoying a cup of tea at Advanced Dressing Station, October 1918 Image copyright Courtesy The Vimy Foundation
Image caption Canadian wounded enjoying a cup of tea at Advanced Dressing Station, October 1918

With a dose of colour, a Canadian charity has breathed new life into archival images from World War One.

The Vimy Foundation pored over hundreds of old Canadian black and white photos to select a final 150 to painstakingly colourise.

The hope is to create a personal connection to the war experience for a new generation through the restored images.

The photos have been published in the book They Fought In Colour.

They are also currently on display at Canada's national war museum through early January, and the exhibit is expected to tour across the country throughout 2019.

Image copyright Courtesy The Vimy Foundation
Image caption Soldiers getting all dressed up for a Maple Leaf Concert Party in France, September 1917

Historian Jeremy Diamond, executive director of the Vimy Foundation, says they discovered that colour lets the modern viewer connect far more easily with the images.

"A lot of those details - people's eyes and their expression and the backgrounds and the landscapes - are lost in black and white compared to colour," he told the BBC.

"It gives a great perspective of real events. They're suddenly the real faces of real people."

Image copyright Courtesy The Vimy Foundation
Image caption General Sir Sam Hughes and party looking at ruins in Arras, France August, 1916

The Vimy Foundation's mandate is to preserve and promote Canada's legacy in the global conflict, which spanned from 1914 to 1918.

That war "was a transformative experience in Canada's history", Mr Diamond said.

Then still a very new country, Canada had some 8 million residents at the time, less than a quarter of its current population.

Image copyright Courtesy The Vimy Foundation
Image caption Canadians on the march near the line during a snow storm

Over 650,000 Canadians served during World War One, almost 425,000 overseas. Over 66,000 were killed and more than 172,000 were wounded.

The war "completely changed the society we were living in because everybody knew somebody who went over, and many people, of course, lost family members over there", said Mr Diamond.

"That important story - the growth of a very young country - formed the basis for how our communities were developed."

Image copyright The Vimy Foundation
Image caption Canadian Forestry men having a skate

Mr Diamond said that they tried to select a range of images, not just of soldiers in the trenches, but "stories of nurses, stories of sports and entertainment, stories of communication, stories of the home front, stories of soldiers coming home".

The Vimy Foundation is not the first to try to bring the history of World War One to life through colourisation.

Earlier this year, filmmaker Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame, released a ground-breaking programme on World War One, called They Shall Not Grow Old.

Image copyright The Vimy Foundation
Image caption Chinese Labour Battalions in France celebrating the Chinese New Year on 11th February, 1918

It uses technology to painstakingly transform black and white archive footage of soldiers into a full-colour documentary.

UK filmmakers also colourised dramatic footage from the second global conflict of the 20th century for the 2014 documentary World War Two in Colour.

The images were restored for a 13-episode series on the 1939-1945 war.

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