Grey War No More


Canada's History - - CONTENTS - By Mar­i­anne Helm

A new photo-colour­iza­tion project has brought the story of the Great War vividly to life.

To com­mem­o­rate the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the Great War, the Vimy Foun­da­tion is in­tro­duc­ing Cana­di­ans to a new way of view­ing Canada’s First World War con­tri­bu­tions: in colour. They Fought in Colour: A New Look at

Canada’s First World War Ef­fort will be avail­able on Oc­to­ber 6. The Great War was tra­di­tion­ally doc­u­mented us­ing black-and­white pho­tog­ra­phy. The book’s colour­ized im­ages help to trans­form our un­der­stand­ing of the war, as well as the con­tri­bu­tions of Cana­di­ans on the home front.

Wit­ness­ing the hues of young, flushed faces, the tints of the uni­forms, and the tans and browns of the muddy, blasted bat­tle­fields, read­ers are brought emo­tion­ally closer to the ex­pe­ri­ences of the Great War gen­er­a­tion. The book’s ten chap­ters de­pict im­ages of war prepa­ra­tion, medicine, life be­hind the lines, the home front, as well as the re­turn home to Canada.

The im­ages, colour­ized by Mark Tru­elove, are com­ple­mented by es­says by well-known Cana­di­ans such as Mar­garet At­wood, Hugh Brew­ster, Stephen Brunt, Tim Cook, Char­lotte Gray, Rick Hansen, Serge Joyal, R.H. Thom­son, Lee Wind­sor, and Tim­o­thy C. Wine­gard.

They Fought in Colour also in­cludes a fore­ward by Pierre Ber­ton Award win­ner Paul Gross, and an af­ter­word by Peter Mans­bridge.

Canada’s His­tory spoke re­cently about the project with Jeremy Di­a­mond, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Vimy Foun­da­tion, and im­age colour­iza­tion spe­cial­ist Mark Tru­elove.

The ti­tle They Fought in Colour vividly re­minds us that the world of the Great War was suf­fused with colour. What im­pact does colour­iz­ing black-and­white im­ages have on read­ers to­day?

Jeremy Di­a­mond [ JD]: Colour makes the im­ages, and the peo­ple in them, feel fa­mil­iar. The peo­ple in these colour­ized pho­tos don’t seem like an an­cient gen­er­a­tion but rather as the young peo­ple that they were, thrust into a for­eign ex­pe­ri­ence. It makes the sol­dier in the muddy trenches, the nurse in the field hos­pi­tal, and those who waited for them at home, rais­ing money to sup­port the war ef­fort, come alive. Im­me­di­ately, their ex­pres­sions, man­ner­isms, and feel­ings are fa­mil­iar.

It is in­cred­i­bly im­pact­ful to look at these his­toric pho­tos in a new way and to see both how sim­i­lar and how dif­fer­ent their lives are to our own lives to­day. The colour ver­sions make them feel cur­rent. Sud­denly these pho­tos of war-torn Western Europe and those in the news­pa­pers to­day don’t look that dif­fer­ent.

Mark Tru­elove [MT]: Most of the feed­back that I get is from peo­ple telling me that the added colour has brought the photo to life and made it eas­ier to re­late to the peo­ple in the photo. It bridges the gap be­tween now and then and helps to per­son­al­ize the pho­tos. The peo­ple in the pho­tos be­come more life­like — more like you and me!

What was the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the de­ci­sion to colour­ize the pho­to­graphs?

JD: Our world nowa­days is very con­nected through im­agery — the amaz­ing cam­eras on our smart phones, the pho­tos we share through so­cial net­works like In­sta­gram and Snapchat. The Vimy Foun­da­tion works pre­dom­i­nantly with young peo­ple, and we are al­ways look­ing for in­ter­est­ing ways to help them con­nect more strongly with Canada’s First World War his­tory.

Black-and-white pho­tos tend to feel like the an­cient past — one hun­dred years might as well be one thou­sand

years. But see­ing the same pho­tos in colour helps us to see the war as it was ex­pe­ri­enced by those who lived it and helps us con­nect to our his­tory in a way that is more chal­leng­ing to do with pho­tos in their orig­i­nal form.

Mark, how did you first be­come in­ter­ested in colour­iz­ing pho­to­graphs?

MT: I first be­came in­ter­ested in colour­ing pho­tos when I was re­search­ing my fam­ily his­tory. I had lots of black-and­white pho­to­graphs and I saw a photo that some­one had colour­ized on­line, and I wanted to do that to all of my fam­ily pho­tos! So I taught my­self how to do it, and it all went from there.

De­scribe the re­search process that goes into pre­par­ing to colour­ize a black and white photo.

MT: Some pho­tos are easy to re­search, and some can be a bit of guess­work. There are great on­line re­sources for the colours

of uni­forms, medals, and ad­ver­tise­ments. I of­ten use old post­cards for the colours of build­ings, land­marks, and spe­cific store­fronts. The Vimy Foun­da­tion put me in con­tact with Caitlin Bai­ley, the cu­ra­tor at the Cana­dian Cen­tre for the Great War, who an­swered some of the tougher uni­form ques­tions that I had.

Jeremy, what types of sur­prises emerged as you be­gan to re­ceive the colour­ized im­ages?

JD: Each time a new colour­ized im­age ar­rived from Mark, we crowded around a com­puter screen, com­pletely trans­fixed by the im­pact of the colour. It was al­ways the pho­tos with the faces that jumped out the most. We also started to no­tice that the faces in the pho­tos looked like the faces of to­day. In some cases, even the hair­cuts were sim­i­lar. This bridged the gap be­tween past and present.

Each chap­ter deals with a dif­fer­ent as­pect of the war. How did you de­cide upon the themes, and how dif­fi­cult was it in de­cid­ing who was the best writer to tell each story?

JD: We wanted to tell the story of Canada’s role in the First World War from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, as the war it­self was ex­pe­ri­enced from dif­fer­ent ones. The var­i­ous themes also al­low the book to con­nect to dif­fer­ent au­di­ences – in­clud­ing those not nec­es­sar­ily in­ter­ested in the tra­di­tional bat­tle­field nar­ra­tive.

We were for­tu­nate to have so many won­der­ful Cana­di­ans in­ter­ested in con­tribut­ing to the book. In some cases, we wanted a sport­swriter to write about sports — as in the case of Stephen Brunt — but in other cases a unique voice, such as R.H. Thom­son com­ment­ing on how sol­diers were re­ceived when they re­turned, was also very valu­able. The writ­ers bring their own per­spec­tives to their top­ics, teach­ing some­thing new to the read­ers.

De­scribe the se­lec­tion process that went into choos­ing the im­ages.

JD: Our project started with the most iconic pho­tos from the First World War — the sol­diers cel­e­brat­ing in the trucks

after the vic­tory at Vimy Ridge and walk­ing through the mud of Passchendaele. We wanted to tell more of the story be­yond the bat­tle scenes, so it was im­por­tant to in­clude pho­tos from all points of the war, a cross-sec­tion of what those four-plus years were like: some of the sport­ing events tak­ing place be­hind the front lines, women work­ing in fac­to­ries in Canada, fundrais­ing drives across the coun­try, the work of nurses and doc­tors, train­ing ex­er­cises, and the sol­diers com­ing home. To do so we pored over the of­fi­cial war pho­to­graphs now held by Li­brary and Ar­chives Canada but also looked through im­ages from many smaller ar­chives. Some pho­tos jumped out im­me­di­ately. The hard part was to cap it at 150 pho­tos!

Mark, how chal­leng­ing is it to en­sure that your colour­iza­tions ac­cu­rately re­flect re­al­ity?

MT: It de­pends on the photo. It is a con­stant learn­ing process for me to try to get the photo to look as real as pos­si­ble. For most pho­tos, with good re­search, they can be a good re­flec­tion of re­al­ity.

The book goes be­yond the bat­tle­field to tell the sto­ries of other as­pects of sol­diers’ lives, as well as the sto­ries of those on the home front. Why was it im­por­tant to move “be­yond the trenches” in terms of the sto­ries be­ing told?

JD: We talk about this war as the Great War be­cause it re­ally did touch the lives of ev­ery per­son in Canada. Ev­ery com­mu­nity from coast to coast was im­pacted. It was crit­i­cal for us to cap­ture some of these changes — nurs­ing sis­ters vot­ing over­seas, women work­ing in mu­ni­tions fac­to­ries, the sheer num­bers of sol­diers lined up dur­ing re­cruit­ment, even the sports stars! It was also im­por­tant for us to show some of the sto­ries of the sol­diers away from the front lines.

By fea­tur­ing some of the more light­hearted mo­ments of the First World War — the sports and games that took place, the hol­i­days that were ob­served, and the meals that were shared — we hoped to present a dif­fer­ent side of the war ex­pe­ri­ence than the bat­tle scenes that are typ­i­cally shown.

The words “con­nect” and “con­nec­tion” ap­pear of­ten in the text. Why is it im­por­tant to con­nect Cana­di­ans to­day with those who lived dur­ing the Great War Era?

JD: The fur­ther we get from sem­i­nal mo­ments in our his­tory, the more chal­leng­ing it is to con­nect these events with Cana­di­ans to­day, es­pe­cially youth. This is es­pe­cially true with the First World War. With no vet­er­ans alive from the Great War gen­er­a­tion, we risk for­get­ting about the supreme sac­ri­fice that so many men and women made dur­ing a truly trans­for­ma­tive time in our coun­try.

But look around us — many com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try have a ceno­taph or war memo­rial with names of bat­tles and war dead. These peo­ple walked the same streets, sat in the same parks and at­tended the same schools as our youth do to­day. With­out re­al­iz­ing it, we are con­nected to these in­di­vid­u­als a cen­tury later on a daily ba­sis.

What was your favourite part of this project?

MT: My favourite part of the project was see­ing the wide range of sub­ject mat­ter that the Vimy Foun­da­tion was in­ter­ested in. They were able to get high res­o­lu­tion copies of the pho­tos which were great to work with. I had favourites amongst the pho­tos but they were all very in­ter­est­ing to work with.

The Great War gen­er­a­tion is now gone, and the Sec­ond World War gen­er­a­tion grows older with each pass­ing year. What im­pact do you hope books like this will have in terms of help­ing new gen­er­a­tions of Cana­di­ans re­mem­ber the legacy of the World Wars?

JD: At the con­clu­sion of the Great War, Cana­di­ans made a prom­ise to never for­get.

A cen­tury later, the Vimy Foun­da­tion is en­cour­aged by the pub­lic’s in­creased en­gage­ment and in­ter­est in the First World War, cre­ated by the var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties and cam­paigns de­vel­oped dur­ing this cen­ten­nial pe­riod. They Fought in Colour is a new-look his­tory book, one that tells an old story in a new way — with high-qual­ity, unique, and never-be­fore-seen pho­to­graphs — and as a re­sult we feel it will con­tinue to stoke the in­ter­est in Canada’s vi­tal role in the Great War and be a pub­li­ca­tion that can be shared with read­ers of all ages for years to come.

38 Sol­diers demon­strate a charge from the trenches dur­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion in Toronto, Septem­ber 11, 1915.

Above: Quar­ter­mas­ter Sergeant Ed­win Drake and Lieu­tenant Colonel Henry Ge­orge Mayes demon­strate a dummy they de­signed and con­structed for use in bay­o­net prac­tice, circa 1914–1918.


Cen­tre: The as­cent of an ob­server kite bal­loon on the Western Front, Oc­to­ber 1916.Be­low: A Cana­dian Vol­un­tary Aid De­tach­ment am­bu­lance driver at the front, May 1917.

Above: Sol­diers of the 3rd Bri­gade trav­el­ling by bus from Ply­mouth to Sal­is­bury Plain, Eng­land, 1914.Cen­tre: Cana­dian Pi­o­neer Bat­tal­ion ser­vice men cut wood in a for­est near Vimy Ridge, Au­gust 1917.Be­low: Ger­man pris­on­ers trans­port a wounded Cana­dian in an im­pro­vised stretcher near Ar­ras, Au­gust 1918.


Nurs­ing sis­ters com­pete in a race on Sports Day at the Man­i­toba Mil­i­tary Hos­pi­tal in Tuxedo, Man­i­toba, 1917.

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