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Powerful Colour Photos From World War One

Colour photography was first patented by the French Lumière brothers in 1903, but didn't become widespread until after World War 2. However, at the forefront of innovation, the French Army kept colour records of some of their operations. A large archive of WWI colour photography is available at - here are some highlights, which I found particularly powerful for their depiction of the ordinariness of life at and just behind the front. These are all original colour photos, not colourised b&w shots.

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Armed Neutrality

Not far from the trenches in the above photo is the border with Switzerland. Photographed through the chicken-wire, these Swiss border guards look distinctly 19th-century in their brightly-buttoned navy blue uniforms.

Dinner time

Most soldiers in most armies spent only a small amount of time in the front-line trenches; the rest was sent on rotation behind the lines, staving off boredom. Here, soldiers of the French 370th Infantry division eat their dinner...

Traffic signs

A French soldier poses by some traffic signs in French and English. This photo is taken on 10 September 1917 at Rousbrugge, Belgium - the Battle of Passchendaele is happening just up the road.


More as a gesture of solidarity than anything else, the Russian government sent a brigade to fight alongside the French. When the Russian Revolution came, a few months after this photo was taken, most of the Russians were interned and were quite happy not to have to keep fighting for a foreign country. Some volunteered and a Russian Legion of a few hundred men fought in the French Army as part of the 1st Moroccan Infantry Division.

Senegalese soldiers

Senegalese soldiers pose for the camera behind the lines. The French played to the racism of the day by describing the Senegalese in propaganda as barely civilised savages, lusting to kill the enemy with their machetes (such as the one the soldier on the left is showing off). In reality, the Tirailleurs Sénégalaises served with distinction at the Somme, Verdun and Gallipoli among others.


Australian soldiers wearing their distinctive bush hats relax behind the lines at the small town of Bergues, just inland of Dunkirk. The Australian troops were known as "Diggers", or as "Anzacs", derived from the initians of the Australia & New Zealand Army Corps.

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