Rare second World War colour photographs revealed

Extraordinary collection of pictures which capture behind the scenes of the war feature in new book

 Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) plotters at work at Coastal Artillery Headquarters in Dover, December 1942 Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA

Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) plotters at work at Coastal Artillery Headquarters in Dover, December 1942 Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA

 

An extraordinary collection of rare colour photographs reveal the second World War as the people living through the conflict would have seen it.

A new book from the Imperial War Museums (IWM) includes rarely seen colour images taken by official photographers, as well as news agencies, freelancers and even air crews, many of which are being published for the first time.

The scarcity of colour film and the high cost of reproducing it in printed publications during the second World War means that for most people today the war is a black and white conflict.

But the photographs in the book, The Second World War in Colour, bring it vividly to life with images that look as if they were taken yesterday – or come from a film set.

They range from the women preparing bullets and cannon shells underground to shots of troops in training, stationed in Italy and Tunisia, and sightseeing in Greece.

Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery explaining Allied strategy to King George VI in his command caravan in Holland, October 1944. Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA
Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery explaining Allied strategy to King George VI in his command caravan in Holland, October 1944. Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA
General Dwight D Eisenhower and his senior commanders at supreme allied headquarters in London, February 1944. Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA
General Dwight D Eisenhower and his senior commanders at supreme allied headquarters in London, February 1944. Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA

There are images of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery explaining Allied strategy to King George VI, General Dwight D Eisenhower and his senior commanders at supreme allied headquarters in London in February 1944 and Winston Churchill and his chiefs of staff in the garden at Downing Street in May 1945.

Images portray the fighting fronts, with rare photography of Mustangs and Spitfires in flight and the RAF’s top-scoring fighter pilot, Wing Commander ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, with his pet dog Sally.

A crew from the 16th/5th Lancers, 6th Armoured Division, cleaning the gun barrel of their Crusader tank at El Aroussa in Tunisia, May 1943. Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA
A crew from the 16th/5th Lancers, 6th Armoured Division, cleaning the gun barrel of their Crusader tank at El Aroussa in Tunisia, May 1943. Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA
Air raid warden in Holborn, London. Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA Wire
Air raid warden in Holborn, London. Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA Wire

No colour film was supplied to British official photographers to document the D-Day landings.

But there are colour pictures of the last months of the war in Europe, including Dutch celebrations after the liberation of Eindhoven, and an image of the spontaneous celebrations of VE Day in Whitehall, central London.

Dutch civilians dancing in the streets after the liberation of Eindhoven by Allied forces, September 1944. Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA
Dutch civilians dancing in the streets after the liberation of Eindhoven by Allied forces, September 1944. Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA
Land Army members sawing larch poles for use as pit props at the Women’s Timber Corps training camp at Culford, Suffolk, 1943 Photograph: IWM/PA
Land Army members sawing larch poles for use as pit props at the Women’s Timber Corps training camp at Culford, Suffolk, 1943 Photograph: IWM/PA

The British Ministry of Information, which controlled output of material to the press during the war, wanted to obtain colour photographs as a record and for inclusion in publications which could print in colour.

Some 3,000 colour pictures were taken between 1942 and 1945, and those that survived were passed to the IWM in 1949.

All of the photographs in the book come from the IWM photograph archive, and most were taken by a band of British official photographers, while the ministry also sourced colour images from agencies and freelancers.

There are also pictures from German and American sources, including US aircrew.

Lt Vernon R Richards of the 361st Fighter Group flying his P-51D Mustang nicknamed Tika IV during a bomber escort mission in 1944. Photograph: IWM/PA
Lt Vernon R Richards of the 361st Fighter Group flying his P-51D Mustang nicknamed Tika IV during a bomber escort mission in 1944. Photograph: IWM/PA
B-24 Liberator bombers of the 491st Bomb Group, US Eighth Air Force, en route to a target in Germany, 1944. Photogaaph: Photograph: IWM/PA
B-24 Liberator bombers of the 491st Bomb Group, US Eighth Air Force, en route to a target in Germany, 1944. Photogaaph: Photograph: IWM/PA

– (PA)

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