36 Incredible Photographs of World War I Taken By Some of the First Color Cameras

At first glance these photos from the First World War appear to have had digitally colorised, but in fact these rare images were taken using some of the world’s first colour cameras.

The stunning pictures show French soldiers reading newspapers, pausing for lunch in ruined towns and cities and clearing the rubble after devastating German artillery raids.

Some of the weapons and machinery of the war can also be seen in extraordinary detail, including a British Sopwith fighter plane and 75mm guns used by French artillery.

The world’s first colour photograph was taken in 1861, but the use of colour film did not become widespread until well after the end of the First World War.

The pictures also reveal the human side of the war, as one soldier is shaved by a barber in a French military encampment and another picture shows a girl playing with her doll in the ruins of Reims.

A little girl plays with her doll next to two guns and a knapsack, in the city of Reims in northern France in 1917. Between April and May of this year, British and French troops fought the Battle of the Hills to the east of the city, between Prunay and Aubérive, in an attempt to break through German lines on the Aisne front and push the Germans back across modern-day Belgium toward their own borders. Though the attack achieved several important goals, it was ultimately unsuccessful.
French Captain Robert de Beauchamp stands alongside his British Sopwith fighter in September 1916, after returning from a bombing raid on Essen in Germany. The picture was taken shortly before his death at Verdun. According to Le Souvenir Français, an organisation which remembers France’s war dead, Beauchamp ‘was the first to organize and execute long-range bombing, showing, in the accomplishment of these missions, an energy, a tenacity and a daring that was unparalleled’
French soldiers buying and reading newspapers at a kiosk in Rexpoede, in the far north of France, in September 1917. The town is just 20 miles from Ypres, in Belgium, where the Battle of Passchendaele was being fought at this time. The battle was one of the bloodiest of the entire war, but is perhaps more infamous for the mud. The worst rains to hit the Flanders region for 30 years turned parts of the battlefield into a quagmire so deep that men and horses drowned in it.
A French soldier has his lunch in front of a damaged library, sitting by a lamp-post after parking his bicycle in Reims, France in April 1917. German troops capture Reims early on in the conflict and while they were pushed back out of the city, they formed a trench network on the surrounding high ground allowing them to periodically shell the buildings. In total, around 60 per cent of Reims was destroyed during the war.
The French line at Het Sas, north of Ypres in Belgium, devastated by artillery fire with soldiers standing in front of shelters, September 10, 1917. This image was taken a month after the Battle of Passchendaele began, while the Allies and Germans were still locked in a bloody stalemate. Fifteen days after this picture was taken, however, the fighting began to swing in the Allies’ favour with British victory at the Battle of Menin Road Ridge.
French soldiers clearing the rubble in the ruins of Reims, in 1917. Reims was bombarded continually by the Germans during the war, leaving city heavily damaged, but perhaps the most infamous attack occurred in 1914. On that occasion a German shell hit the city’s cathedral, setting it on fire and destroying statues and stained glass windows. The incident was often used in French propaganda to depict the Germans as barbaric.
The towers of the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims can be seen through the damaged windows of another building, in 1917. The Germans had pledged not to shell Reims after retreating from the city in the early months of the war, but that pact lasted just a week. Over the course of the next four years, the cathedral alone was hit more than 300 times, leaving it little more than a battered shell by the end.
George ‘Pop’ Redding, an Australian soldier from the 8th Light Horse Regiment, picks flowers during the war in Palestine. ‘Pop’ enlisted in the Australian army in 1915 giving his age as 44 to the recruiting sergeant, when in fact he was 57. At the time this picture was taken he was 61, making him one of the oldest men in the First Australian Imperial Force.
A French section of machine gunners takes position during the Second Battle of the Aisne on the Western Front in 1917. The battle was part of the Nivelle Offensive, devised by French general Robert Nivelle, and the Aisne offensive formed the main thrust of the attack. The battle was supposed to last 48 hours with casualties of 10,000 men, but dragged on for three weeks with nearly 30,000 dead. Despite achieving several key objectives, it led to mutinies among the men and ended in failure.
A soldier is shaved by a barber in a French military encampment in Soissons, while two soldiers wait under a tent, in 1917. A year after this picture was taken a major battle was fought here between the French and Germans, with the British and Americans supporting the French. In total 95,000 French and 12,000 Americans were killed, alongside 168,000 Germans. It was for his actions during this battle that Adolf Hitler was awarded the Iron Cross First Class.
Doctors, nurses and medical personnel in front of field hospital number 55, in Bourbourg in northern France. The hospital was known as ‘the camp in the oatfield’ because of its location, having been moved there from Dunkirk after the German army started shelling the region. It existed for just five months in summer 1915 before being relocated to the dune near Calais.
A group of French soldiers rest on the grass as they eat their lunch in Aisne, on the Western Front in France, in 1917. While the men in this picture appear relaxed and happy, this was the site of mutinies by several French divisions in May following the failure of the Second Battle of Aisne. The failure also led to the dismissal of General Robert Nivelle.
Two French soldiers and a young boy look through the window of a shop selling alcohol in Reims, France, in 1917. While these scenes appear peaceful, in fact the German front line was located less than 10 miles away to the north, with the Kaiser’s forces regularly shelling the city. The Germans actually occupied Reims in the first few months of the war, though were quickly pushed back and would never retake it.
A French soldier stands by a table which has German grenades and an aircraft propeller on it, in Reims, France, in 1917. The First World War was the first major conflict to see the deployment of military aircraft and while they were initially used for reconnaissance, by the war’s end they were also being used as fighters and for bombing runs, often with shells such as these simply tossed out of the plane by the co-pilot.
Australians from the Imperial Camel Corps line up at Rafah, Egypt, during the war against the Ottoman Empire in January 1918. The Camel Corps, or ICC for short, was a brigade comprised of four battalions – one British, one New Zealand and two Australian – and fought during the Senussi Campaign, the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, and in the Arab Revolt. It was disbanded after the war ended in 1919.
A group of French artillerymen with 75 mm guns on the Western Front in September 1916, during the Battle of Verdun. The battle, which lasted from February until December 1916, was the largest and longest of any fought during the war and one of the deadliest battles in human history. Estimated of the total number of casulaties range between 700,000 at the low end and more than 1million at the top end.
People on the ground watch with binoculars as anti-aircraft guns mounted on vehicles are deployed during the Battle of Verdun in September 1916. Verdun was the first land battle in history that began with a fight for air superiority, effectively laying a blueprint for conflicts since. Marshal Philippe Pétain described it as ‘the crucible that forged French aviation’.
Two French soldiers from Africa heat up a meal on an outdoor fireplace made of brick, in Soissons, France, in 1917. Of all countries involved in the First World War, France made the most extensive use of soldiers from its colonies. Between 1914 and 1918, the French deployed approximately 450,000 indigenous troops from Africa, including West Africans , Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Malagasies, and Somalis.
A man tends to a French military cemetery on the Western Front during the Battle of Verdun in 1916. Over the course of the battle, which lasted for 303 days, France suffered and estimated 379,000 casualties, of which 163,000 died – an average of more than 500 per day.
Three women wearing the Red Cross stand in front of a vehicle with French ambulance staff behind them in September 1916 during the Battle of Verdun. The battle was a severe test for medics, who often found themselves caught up in the fighting. During the first four months of the battle 33 doctors were killed, 13 disappeared and 86 were wounded.
A wide picture shows Red Cross ambulance trucks joining forces with U.S. postal workers who were deployed in France, in Dieue-sur-Meuse, north of Verdun, in September 1916. Despite fierce fighting across Europe during the war, more than 12 million letters per week were delivered to soldiers per week, with thousands of postal workers drafted in to meet demand.
Two French soldiers working at the smith’s hearth in a forge destroyed by grenades, in Reims, France, in 1917. The city was bombarded throughout the war and more than 60 per cent of it was destroyed by the time that fighting finished.
A group of French soldiers in a trench on June 16, 1917, in Hirtzbach in the Alsace region, near the modern German border. The recapture of Alsace-Lorriane from the Germans was a top war priority for the French, who attacked it early in 1914. The territory would swap hands several times during the conflict, before being returned to France in the Treaty of Versailles.
French soldiers of the 370th Infantry Regiment sit on their bags as they eat soup during the Battle of the Aisne in 1917. The battled was supposed to last 48 hours at a cost of 10,000 French troops, but actually lasted three weeks with 30,000 casualties. This led to mutinies among the men, and meant the battle ended in defeat.
Senegalese soldiers serving as infantrymen in the French army rest with guns in Saint-Ulrich, in the Alsace region, in 1917. Around 200,000 Senegalese fought in the First World War, more than 135,000 of whom fought in Europe and 30,000 of whom were killed.
Three French soldiers do their laundry at a well in Soissons, in 1917. While this area remained under French control for much of the war, it also remained within range of German artillery, which regularly shelled the area. French and British troops stationed here came under attack by the Germans in 1918, and were initially pushed back before recapturing the area.
Four camel ambulances in 1918 attached to the Imperial Camel Corps in Rafa, Egypt, used as a base for an attack on Gaza. The ICC were instrumental in a number of battles across the Middle East during the First World War, suffering a total of 246 casualties before being disbanded in 1919.
Four firemen pose with their equipment in front of a pile of rubble in Reims, on the Western Front in France, in 1917. Firemen were essential to keeping the city of Reims standing despite repeated German shelling attempts. However, they could not save the cathedral after it was hit in 1914. Scaffolding around the outside caught fire, melting the lead roof and causing a huge amount of damage.
French military personnel stand by a gun used by French forces during the Battle of Verdun, in September 1916. Artillery fire caused an estimated 70 per cent of the more than 700,000 casualties at Verdun, with an estimated 60million shells fired during the battle’s 10 month duration.
Broken gravestones at the Northern Cemetery in Reims, France, after they suffered severe damage in 1917. The German shelling of Reims, particularly the damage to religious buildings and other structures, proved a powerful propaganda tool to the Allies and featured on posters throughout the war.
People stand at the edge of an enormous, 127 yard-wide crater in Messines, Belgium, after 19 mines exploded under German positions. The explosives, planted by British sappers tunneling underneath the German trenches, killed around 10,000 of the Kaiser’s soldiers, most of them from the 3rd Royal Bavarian Division. The blast ranks among the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.
Group of French Soldiers in front of the entrance of a cote. Woods of Hirtzbach, France. June 1917.
A group of Canadian forestry workers. Oise, France, 1917.
Time for a haircut. In a camp a soldier is cutting the hair of a comrade. Aisne, France, 1917.
Officers of the 370th, having been subjected to the attack of July 8th, take time to relax. Aisne, France 1917
Senegalese cook. Aisne, France, 1917

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