In my last entry in the “Historic Photo” series, I presented a stunning image of commerce on the New York City waterfront, circa 1900, which was originally taken in black-and-white but colorized in 2016 by digital artist Marina Amaral. That article was the most successful and popular post I did that week, and as there’s lots more where it came from I decided to bring you another of Marina’s magnificent colorizations. This picture depicts a British soldier in a trench on the Western Front during World War I. This man is from the 6th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, and it was taken at Cambrin, France on February 6, 1918. The soldier, who appears to be coming off his watch, is a sniper–you can tell that by his rifle. The original photo is in the collection of the Imperial War Museum in London.
As harrowing as this image is–and as lifelike as the colorization has made it–it’s not especially representative of trench conditions on the Western Front. For one thing, the trench is extremely clean and dry, which was in fact a rarity during the war. Even in dry weather trenches tended to collect dirty water and mud at their bottoms, and in fact you can see the planks, called duckboards, that soldiers used to line the bottom of the trenches so they could walk on something solid under the mud. It’s also not very crowded. Trenches teemed with soldiers, who dug bunkers in the dank earth behind these zig-zag formations of trench; the zig-zag pattern was made so that if an enemy shell hit the trench its explosion would be limited to a specific area instead of killing additional victims all up and down the length of the trench. Between mud, unsanitary conditions, rats, un-buried corpses in No Man’s Land, bad weather, endless shelling and sniping by the enemy and pointless attacks that often accomplished little except chewing entire armies into sausage, life in a World War I trench was enough to drive even the strongest men insane. There’s no telling how long this British soldier has been in the war, but by 1918, the last year of the conflict, most British troops were seasoned veterans.
Marina has done a fabulous job on colorizing this picture, and as usual her skills truly bring the past to life and into sharp relief. Most of us can’t quite imagine what trench warfare was really like but pictures like this make it real. Here is Marina’s website where you can see more of her work, and here’s her Twitter account. I look forward to featuring more of her colorizations in the future.