World War I in Color: Incredible Photos Bring Conflict to Life

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A new book, 'They Fought in Colour,' wants to help modern audiences feel a deeper sense of connection with the soldiers. Canadian War Museum / George Metcalf Archival Collection / The Vimy Foundation

A hundred years after the end of the First World War, a Canadian charity has revitalized a collection of archival photographs using color, bringing us a little closer to the people who served during the conflict.

The Vimy Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving Canada’s First World War legacy, collected 150 black-and-white photographs of wartime life, which they lovingly infused with lifelike hues with the help of a digital colorist. The results have been released as a book, They Fought in Colour.

Through these new images, the charity hopes people will feel a deeper sense of connection with the soldiers, despite there being no more living veterans of the First World War to speak of their experiences first-hand.

“Many Canadians today see the First World War through a series of faded black-and-white photos, disconnected from their modern reality,” said Jeremy Diamond, executive director of the Vimy Foundation. “Colorizing these events brings a new focus to our understanding and appreciation of Canada during the First World War.”

The photos show the comradeship of wartime experience. In some photos, soldiers cheekily climb inside the barrel of a giant howitzer. In another, a man gets dressed up in drag for a Maple Leaf Concert Party in France, where soldiers were due to be entertained by songs and skits about army life.

The photos also show a glimpse of the horror of war. A soldier stands over the body of a fallen major, while in another image a group of soldiers strolls through the crumbling, bombed-out ruins of Arras, France.

This isn't the only project to mark the centenary of Armistice day, which marked the end of the war in November 1918. Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s current movie, They Shall Not Grow Old, colorized and digitally enhanced archive wartime footage to critical acclaim.

The book’s release in October coincided with the exhibition ‘The Great War in Colour – A New Look at Canada’s First World War Effort, 1914–1918,’ which will be open at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa until January 3, 2019.

Here are ten incredible images from the project, which bring the intangible wartime past a little bit closer.

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Unable to ride his cycle through the mud caused by the recent storm. A Canadian messenger carries his "horse". August 1917. Library and Archives Canada/ The Vimy Foundation.
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“A Burial Service at the Front.” Funeral of Major E.L. Knight, Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery. October 1916. Library and Archives Canada/ The Vimy Foundation.
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The ascent of a kite balloon on the Western Front. October 1916, Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / The Vimy Foundation.
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Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge. Canadian War Museum / George Metcalf Archival Collection / The Vimy Foundation.
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Soldiers are seen off as they leave for war. City of Toronto Archives / The Vimy Foundation.
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Maple Leaf Concert Party in France, September 1917. Library and Archives Canada / The Vimy Foundation.
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The breach of a large howitzer, May 1917, Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / The Vimy Foundation.
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German prisoners carrying Canadian wounded advance east of Arras. August 1918. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / The Vimy Foundation.
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Gen. Sir Sam Hughes and Party looking at ruins in Arras, France, August 1916. Library and Archives Canada / The Vimy Foundation.
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Military Demonstration, Shorncliffe Sept. 1917. An aerial greeting during lunch. Library and Archives Canada/ The Vimy Foundation.