Local children hitch a ride on a Sherman tank of 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) in Belpasso near Catania, Sicily, August 1943.

Britain at war in colour


‘Black and white photography puts a barrier between the subject and the viewer,’ Ian Carter said on the release of an earlier book. ‘Colour photography restores that missing clarity and impact.’

Carter is Senior Curator of Photographs at the Imperial War Museum, responsible for acquiring new collections on the museum’s behalf. For more than two decades, he has worked in their image archives and, unsurprisingly given some of the remarkable finds he’s come across in that time, Carter – and the museum – have published several successful collections of wartime imagery.

His latest title, Britain at War in Colour, released later this spring, reveals 100 of the best original images from the IWM collection. Some of them have been previously published – either in American magazines after the war, or more recently in books – but others are appearing in print for the first time.

The photographs are from a collection originally commissioned by the now-defunct Ministry of Information, which during the Second World War gave some of their official photographers a small quantity of Kodachrome film to see what they could do with it. Around 3,000 pictures were taken in all, but many were lost, the survivors finding their way to the museum in 1949.

Due to the rarity at that time of colour photography (this was due to both the scarcity of the film and the expense of printing), each of the images was carefully choreographed, and taken along with a black and white duplicate. This led some to assume that they were merely colourised versions of their monochrome counterparts, but Carter insists they are ‘the real deal’.

Admittedly, there has been some retouching by the museum’s expert restorers, but only in order to optimise the photographs to their maximum quality. The striking original colour has been left intact.

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

-Calum Henderson

Britain at War in Colour by Ian Carter will be published by the Imperial War Museum on 13 May 2021. For more information about the museum and its publications, visit http://www.iwm.org.uk.