First World War in Colour

When you look at old black and white photos, the past seems very far away. This is especially apparent with First World War photographs. And yet in the course of time, it was only yesterday.

The Vimy Foundation, with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage and the R. Howard Webster Foundation is launching a unique and innovative project to colourize images of the First World War, a project aimed at re-engaging young Canadians on a defining moment in our history.

The First World War in Colour project will consist of colourizing 150 images from Library and Archives Canada as well as local archives from across Canada, and video archives from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB); youth workshops across Canada; a travelling exhibit to be hosted by museums and galleries (starting early summer 2017); and a new book (and e-book) published by Dundurn Press for the centennial of the Armistice. The images featured within this project will not only highlight the important battles in Canada’s history, but also life on the home front, wartime industries, the contributions of women, and advances in medical and communications technologies. Interested in reading more about photography during the First World War? Click here.

Thank you to the Government of Canada for supporting this program. Click here for details.

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Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge
Photo courtesy of: Canadian War Museum George Metcalf Archival Collection 19920085-295
Colourized for the first time ever by Canadian Colour

Ensuring that the digital colourization is historically accurate is both painstaking and expensive work. Help us to complete this valuable project prior to the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 2017. 

Donate now to support the First World War in Colour collection

Scroll down to see some of the current images in the collection.

 

A little French paper boy selling papers in Canadian line. June, 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-001436

 

Gen. Currie telling now Vimy Ridge was taken. Visit of Canadian Journalists to the Front. July, 1918.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-002913

 

 

 

Battle of Amiens. Tanks advancing. Prisoners bring in wounded wearing gas masks. August, 1918.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-002951

 

 

Pack horses taking up ammunition to guns of 20th Bty CFA Neuville St. Vaast. April, 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-001229

 

 

Canadian and German wounded help one another through the mud during the capture of Passchendaele. November, 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-003737

 

 

Canadians filling their water bottles, etc. Amiens. August, 1918.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-002970

 

 

Three Canadian soldiers in a German dug-out captured during the Canadian advance east of Arras.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-003201

 

 

Canadian wounded enjoying a cup of tea at Advanced Dressing Station during the advance East of Arras. October, 1918.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-003192

 

 

Gen. Sir Sam Hughes and Party looking at ruins in Arras. August, 1916.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-000590

 

 

Canadian forestry men having a skate.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-004972

 

On sentry duty on a front-line trench. September, 1916.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-000568

 

Telephone testing station at the front. Operators at their posts. October, 1916.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-000740

 

 

Despatch Rider for His Majesty’s Pigeon Service leaving with birds for the trenches. November, 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-002069

 

 

Canadians interested in Canadian Daily Record in trenches near Lens. February, 1918.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-002403

 

 

Unable to ride his cycle through the mud caused by the recent storm, a Canadian messenger carries his “horse”. August, 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-001581

 

 

Highlander cleaning his rifle. June, 1916.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-000163

 

 

Canadians testing their gas masks after heavy work in the trenches. September, 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-001835

 

 

Communication trench. September, 1916.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-000791

 

 

All photos courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.
Colourized for the first time ever by Canadian Colour.

 Stay tuned as additional photos will be added to our collection in coming months!

 

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With support from:

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Photography during the First World War

Written by Carla-Jean Stokes (@teamcarlajean)

The First World War was the first major conflict in which large number of soldiers knew how to use a camera—due primarily to the release of the Kodak Brownie in 1900. In 1912, the Eastman Kodak Company introduced the Vest Pocket Kodak camera, and in 1914 it was marketed specifically to soldiers to make photographic souvenirs of their time at the front. Sales of this tiny camera (designed to fit inside a vest pocket) exploded—an estimated one in five Allied officers carried one.

Professional press photographers and journalists had been banned from the front, but individual soldiers could take photographs so long as they agreed not to send them home or to any newspapers. For their own part, the press was anxious to get images from the front. Newspapers such as L’Illustration and Le Miroir in France, and the Illustrated War News in London, held photography competitions to encourage soldiers to submit their photographs. Some soldiers even supplemented their income by selling photographs to the press. By March 20, 1915, British and Canadian soldiers were ordered to send their cameras home. Enforcement against soldier photography was carried out to varying degrees depending on commanding officers, although taking photographs was technically punishable by court martial.

By 1916, when it had long since become apparent that photographs would make their way to the home front despite the ban, the Canadian War Records Office (CWRO) was given permission to appoint an official photographer. This way, the photographs made available to the press could be controlled through censorship.

Canada employed three official photographers between 1916 and 1918—Captain Harry Knobel (from April-August 1916); Captain William Ivor Castle (from August 1916-June 1917); and Lieutenant William Rider-Rider (from June 1917-November 1918). Together they produced over 4000 photographs of Canadians at war that were printed in newspapers, sold as souvenirs and put on exhibition. Each of the official photographs has a negative number—usually visible in a corner—that begins with an “O” and is followed by the number it was received by the CWRO (O-1450 was the 1450th photograph received by the organization from the photographers).

The original negatives and prints created by Canada’s official photographers are now housed at Library and Archives Canada. Users can find images online using LAC’s archives search with keywords like “Battle of Vimy Ridge” or “Prisoner of War” or “Canadian War Records Office.” Or, simply follow this link to reach all of the official First World War photographs on the Library and Archives Canada.

Further reading:

Jane Carmichael, First World War Photographers (London and New York: Routledge Press, 1989).

Mark Holborn and Hilary Roberts,  The Great War: A Photographic Narrative (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013).

Peter Robertson, Relentless Verity: Canadian Military Photographers Since 1885 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press/The Public Archives of Canada Series, 1973).

Ann Thomas, The Great War: The Persuasive Power of Photography (Milan: 5 Continents Editions in Association with the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 2014).