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  • Tom Marshall

100 Years On: Passchendaele in Colour

Just over a year ago I published a blog of photos taken during the battle of the Somme in 1916. This week marks the centenary of another famous and bloody battle of the First World War, the Battle of Passchendaele, which began on 31st July 1917.

The battle took place on the Western Front, from July until November 1917 for control of the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders.

Officially known as the Third Battle of Ypres, Passchendaele became infamous not only for the scale of casualties, but also for the mud. Shelling between the two sides had destroyed the drainage systems that were keeping the reclaimed marshland dry, meaning that men and horses drowned in some of the worst conditions of the war.

The British lost an estimated 275,000 casualties at Passchendaele to the German’s 220,000, making it one of the war’s most costly battles of attrition.

The more populous Allies could better afford the losses, especially with the recent entry of the United States on their side, but the battle had delivered a blow to the collective morale of the British Expeditionary Force. Passchendaele, often remembered as the low point of the British war effort, remains synonymous with the terrible and costly fighting on the Western Front.

I have chosen a handful of photos to illustrate the living and fighting conditions of British and Commonwealth troops, from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I decided to colourise these images as a tribute to the men pictured, because I believe that colour adds another dimension to historic images, and helps modern eyes to connect with the subjects, more than with a black and white photo.

I have found that black and white images are too often sadly ignored, especially by younger generations, and by colourising the photos, I hope that more people will stop to learn more about the subjects and what the men went through 100 years ago.

The information accompanying the photos comes from the National Library of Scotland's website and other online sources.

A British soldier talks to a local farm worker.

New Zealanders walking wounded at the Battle of Broodseinde ridge, the most successful Allied attack of Passchendaele. A YMCA NZ stall just behind the lines allowed the men to get something to drink.

Men of the 6th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, resting beneath a tarpaulin, Ypres-Comines Canal, 1 October 1917

A soldier of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry washing clothes in an Officer's canvas bath, Ypres-Comines Canal, 1 October 1917.

Men of the 8th Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry playing cards near Ypres, 1 October 1917.

Troops moving at Eventide. Men of a Yorkshire regiment on the march. This photo was taken by Ernest Brooks.

New Zealand soldiers in the Ypres Salient. I was commissioned to colourise this particular image for the cover for 'Passchendaele: The Day by Day Account' by Chris McCarthy. This book is available from Uniform Press here.

British officers in a German trench, Messines, Belgium, 1917. Three officers stand outside the mouth of the trench whilst one sits on top of it and one stands inside it. They all appear happy or relaxed, presumably as they have just captured a German trench and all the supplies in it.

Royal Garrison Artillery gunners pushing a light railway truck filled with shells, behind Zillebeke, 1 October 1917.

Soldiers build a new dug-out as they advance.

An 18 pounder gun being hauled through the mud at Broodseinde Ridge to a position further forward, in support of the advancing Australians, two days before the initial attack on Passchendaele Ridge, in the Ypres sector.

Identified, left of the gun, left to right: Gunner (Gnr) W E Drummond Gnr J Brannon (to Drummond's right) Gnr C V Cox (in front of Brannon) two men unidentified behind Cox 34401 Gnr A Hewitt (in front of Cox) Dvr A C Sampson (standing on wheel, back to camera) Gnr G G Dowling (foreground, pulling rope on front wheel)

Right side of gun, left to right: Dvr Hughes Dvr F Peace unidentified unidentified Bombardier T (R ?) Garniss Sergeant W Reynolds (extreme right, standing back).

Original images courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.

All colourised images © Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2017.

I am a regular contributor to WW1 Colourised Photos, a community of colourisers from around the world who bring the First World War to life in colour. I highly recommend taking a look at their Facebook page.

To see more of my colourised photos, please follow PhotograFix on Facebook and Twitter.

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