A coloured look into hell on earth
Trees stripped bare, buildings blown half out of existence and shell holes filled to the brim with poisonous, sulphur infused mud and water. It sounds like a depiction of hell from a harrowing biblical tale. However, there is nothing fantasised about this. For millions of people for over four years, this was life.
The colourising of pictures from the First World War is an art, and one which a page on Facebook has dedicated themselves to. ‘WW1 Colourised Photos’ have brought to life pictures of men and women who endured some of the worst conditions humans have ever been forced into. Some images are up close and personal, with it almost feeling as though you can look into the eyes and soul of the people in the picture. Others, like the one in this piece, show the desolate wasteland which thousands of soldiers died fighting for.
The image of the soldiers trudging over duckboards and past blown out trees is harrowing. Within the carnage of the background, they are human life which should not need to exist in such a hellish place.
Taken in late October 1917, the weather appears to have been typical of usual autumns. The back end of this year was particularly wet, with one of the most infamous battles of the war being made infamous by the amount of fighting which took place in thick mud. The Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele, began at the end of July and would rage on until early November. The picture was taken close to where the fighting took place, so the vast acres of mud and water would have been central to the battle.
The soldiers in the picture are Australian. These men came from the other side of the earth, a journey which in the early 20th century would take weeks by boat, so a place which couldn’t have been imagined by the most twisted and creative fiction writer. Australians were joined by New Zealanders, Canadians, Africans and Indians in the trenches. It was a brutal war for Europeans fighting, but those from outside the continent were met with the task of travelling great distances before being commissioned into the hellish world of the Great War.
From the early months of the war, the landscape of the Western Front was decimated. New and more powerful artillery would destroy anything in its path. Trees, buildings and the rolling fields of northern France and Belgium would become almost non-existent. It was a wasteland, and the image depicted in this photo is an example of the western front. Millions of men died for land which had been blown out of recognition. Nature was obliterated by industrial power and the way which nations fought their wars would never be the same again.
This photo juxtaposes the macabre with the poignant. A small group of men making their way through a part of the world where, for four years, so many wasted away.
The First World War may be over a century ago now, but the impact it had on the world can never be forgotten. Millions of men marched to the trenches with a spring in their step; and so many wouldn’t come home. Those who did would be scarred forever by a war which was fought on vast areas of wasted land.
We can never forget what happened on the fields of the First World War, and sites like ‘WW1 Colourised Photos’ brings life back into faces which faded long ago.
Picture colourised by Joshua Barrett and Painting the Past