Green helmets and flushed cheeks – the Second World War in colour

It still comes as a shock to see WWII in color. The past somehow feels more restrained when viewed in black and white, as it does in most surviving photographs of this horrifying conflict. Most but not all.

The color photographs you see here are from a collection of around 1,500 that have made their way over land and sea through censorship and Doodlebug raids into the Imperial War Museum archives. The museum has recently begun restoring the paintings and around 100 of them feature in a new book, Britain at War in Colour.

Many have been mistaken for the Ministry of Information and have an obvious propaganda agenda. Others come from US soldiers operating out of Britain, or from Allied combat missions, who had better access than their British counterparts to Kodachrome film – the 35mm stock on which these images were recorded at the time.

Her themes range from the home front to campaigns in Italy and Tunisia. The Royal Air Force is also well represented, not least in the middle of the war when the Air Force became key to British defence.

Perpetual blue skies, green grass, and flushed cheeks lend these images a poignant and unsettling intimacy, narrowing the gap between past and present.

“Black and white photography creates a barrier between subject and viewer, no matter how graphic its content,” says Ian Carter, IWM curator and author of the new book. “The color photography restores the lack of clarity and impact. As history’s most devastating war fades from memory, this becomes even more important.”

Britain at War in Color by Ian Carter (IWM, £25) is out on 13 May

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/artists/green-helmets-flushed-cheeks-second-world-war-colour/ Green helmets and flushed cheeks – the Second World War in colour


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