Extraordinary Second World War photos taken in colour film released by Imperial War Museum

Will Worley
An Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) 'spotter' at a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun site, December 1942. The photo - taken on colour film - is one of a rare collection which has been released by the Imperial War Museum: Imperial War Museum

A rare series of colour photographs taken during the Second World War have been made public for the first time.

Shot on expensive colour film by photographers at the Ministry of Information during the war, the pictures feature a wide range of subjects including well know figures like Winston Churchill and General Dwight D Eisenhower.

Other feature bombed out buildings, evacuee children and members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force preparing parachutes for use during the invasion of Europe, while some feature troops in training.

Some feature forces stationed in Italy and Tunisia, and sightseeing in Greece.

Most visual records of the war are black and white.

The film was difficult to transport and develop, which meant it didn’t make it to the theatres of war in the Far East and the photographs are restricted to Europe and North Africa.

The pictures were primarily taken to serve as a record of the war – rather than for propaganda purposes – though some were disseminated to the press.

Local workers help RAF fitters change the engine of a Lockheed Hudson at Yundum in the Gambia, April 1943 (Imperial War Museum )
Crowds celebrating VE Day near the Cenotaph in Whitehall, 8 May 1945 (Imperial War Museum )
Dutch civilians dancing in the streets after the liberation of Eindhoven by Allied forces, September 1944 (Imperial War Museum )

Around 3,000 colour photographs were taken between 1942 and 1945. In 1949 the surviving pictures were donated to the Imperial War Museum, where they have been archived.

They have now been compiled in a new book, The Second World War in Colour.

An Air Raid Precautions (ARP) warden inspecting damaged buildings in Holborn, London (Imperial War Museum )
A 5.5-inch gun crew from 75th (Shropshire Yeomanry) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, in action in Italy, September 1943
Lancaster bombers nearing completion in Avroís assembly plant at Woodford near Manchester, 1943 (Imperial War Museum )

The photographs vary from scenes of soldiers in the field to liberated civilians celebrating their new found freedom.

Among the military men, there are images some of the most senior Allied figures of the war.

Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery explaining Allied strategy to King George VI in his command caravan in Holland, October 1944 (Imperial War Museum )
General Dwight D Eisenhower and his senior commanders at Supreme Allied Headquarters in London, February 1944 (Imperial War Museum )

“The images in this book show the vivid hues of the flames and fabrics, the intense blue skies, the sun-tanned faces and the myriad of colours of military camouflage,” said Ian Carter, author and Senior Curator at the museum.

“Black and white photography puts a barrier between the subject and the viewer, colour photography restores that missing clarity and impact.

“As the most destructive war in history gradually fades from living memory, it becomes more important to take away the remoteness and bring the Second World War to life.”

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