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They Fought in Colour / La Guerre en couleur

A New Look at Canada's First World War Effort / Nouveau regard sur le Canada dans la Première Guerre mondiale

edited by The Vimy Foundation

foreword by Paul Gross

afterword by Peter Mansbridge

translated by Daniel Poliquin

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2018
Canada, World War I, Historical, Photojournalism
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2018
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  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2018
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  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2018
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Iconic photos from the First World War, newly colourized.

See seminal images of Canada’s First World War experience in a new light — offered in full colour for the first time — with contributions from Margaret Atwood, Tim, Cook, Charlotte Gray, Paul Gross, Peter Mansbridge, and many others.

Canadians today see the First World War largely through black and white photography. Colourizing these images brings a new focus to our understanding and appreciation of the role Canada played during the First World War. It makes the soldier in the muddy trench, the nurse in the field hospital, and those who waited for them at home come to life. Immediately, their expressions, mannerisms, and feelings are familiar. They become real. They Fought in Colour is a new look at Canada’s experience during the Great War. A more accessible look. A more contemporary look.

About the authors

The Vimy Foundation, founded in 2006, is a Canadian charity with members and directors across the country. The mission of the Vimy Foundation is to preserve and promote Canada’s First World War legacy as symbolised by the victory at Vimy Ridge in 1917.

The Vimy Foundation's profile page

Paul Gross is internationally known for his role as Constable Benton Fraser on the multi award-winning drama series Due South. He was honoured with two Gemini Awards for Best Actor, and one Gemini Award for his writing on the series. Gross also received two Gemini Awards for best performance by an actor in the critically acclaimed series Slings & Arrows.

In 2000, Gross wrote, directed and starred in the feature film Men with Brooms, which was the highest-grossing English-language Canadian film of the previous 20 years. He also starred in, co-wrote and produced the miniseries H2O as well as its sequel The Trojan Horse.

In 2008 Gross released his feature film Passchendaele, a movie based on the famous First World War battle heroically fought by 50,000 Canadians in the bloodied fields of Ypres, Belgium. Passchendaele, which Gross wrote, directed and starred in, was the highest grossing Canadian film of 2008 with the box office reaching over $4.5 million, and recently won five Genie Awards, including Best Picture.

Gross has received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award and the Pierre Burton Award. He was recently appointed to the Order of Canada and also received the Earle Grey Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award, from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.

Paul Gross' profile page

Peter Mansbridge is one of Canada’s most respected journalists. He is the former chief correspondent for CBC News and anchor of The National, CBC’s flagship nightly newscast where he worked for thirty years reporting on national and international news stories such as federal elections, foreign conflicts, natural disasters, the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, the 2014 Parliament Hill shootings, and numerous Olympic Games. From 1999 to 2017, he hosted Mansbridge One on One, a weekly program featuring conversations with world leaders, music legends, and sports heroes. Mansbridge has received over a dozen national awards for broadcast excellence, including a lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Canadian Screen and Television. He is a distinguished fellow of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. He is the former two-term Chancellor of Mount Allison University. In 2008, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada—the country’s highest civilian honour—and in 2012, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He is the author of the instant #1 national bestseller, Extraordinary Canadians, and Peter Mansbridge One on One: Favourite Conversations and the Stories Behind Them. He lives in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @PeterMansbridge, visit him at, or listen to his weekly podcast, The Bridge, wherever you find your podcasts.

Peter Mansbridge's profile page

Daniel Poliquin is one of Canada’s leading francophone writers. The author of nearly a dozen books in French, mainly novels and short story collections, he holds Master’s degrees in both German and Comparative Literature, and a doctorate in French Literature. The award-winning author is also a Chevalier in the Ordre de la Pleiade, a recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, and a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2006, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Ottawa. All of Poliquin’s novels have been translated into English and the author is a noted literary translator himself, who has translated many important books into French, including works by Mordecai Richler, Jack Kerouac, W.O. Mitchell, Matt Cohen, and Douglas Glover. Daniel Poliquin lives in Ottawa, where he works as a parliamentary interpreter.

Daniel Poliquin's profile page


  • Commended, Dewey Divas and the Dudes Fall 2018 Pick

Excerpt: They Fought in Colour / La Guerre en couleur: A New Look at Canada's First World War Effort / Nouveau regard sur le Canada dans la Première Guerre mondiale (edited by The Vimy Foundation; foreword by Paul Gross; afterword by Peter Mansbridge; translated by Daniel Poliquin)


It has been nearly a decade since Canada lost its last living link to the First World War, John Babcock. John was 109 years old.

John Babcock didn’t see active combat, although he tried several times, having lied about his age — twice! — but only getting as far as Halifax the first time and England the second. In the years prior to his passing, John shared stories with numerous people about what life was like when he was a kid in small-town Ontario, prior to the outbreak of war. He shared his memories of taking the train to his family farm, ordering his first pair of shoes while browsing the latest Eaton’s catalogue, and being a fifteen-year-old kid wanting to enlist. He knew very little of what his fellow Canadians were experiencing in the battlefields of France and Belgium. But he knew he wanted to be part of it.

He nearly got his wish by telling officials he was eighteen, the age that would have allowed him to be deployed to France in the waning days of the war. Survival was far from a certainty, especially in late 1918, but timing was on John’s side even if he didn’t want it to be. The Armistice arrived soon after he enlisted, and John Babcock lived, amazingly, for another ninety years.

One hundred years later, we still recognize the Great War as a truly transformative experience for Canada.

However, Canadians today see the First World War in black and white — through photographs and in grainy film footage, the speed of which resembles a comedy routine from a bygone era. The faces of the soldiers, nurses, and those at home are unrecognizable to us. The landmarks in cities and towns across the Western Front and in Canada look completely different, and the early forms of technology used during the Great War are big and bulky compared to what we use today to complete the most menial of tasks. As a result, it is challenging for us to connect with these seminal moments in our history, and to recognize their importance for the country we know today.

Colourizing these images brings a new focus to our understanding and appreciation of Canada’s giant event — the First World War. It makes the soldier in the muddy trenches, the nurse in the fi eld hospital, and those who waited for them at home, raising money to support the war eff ort, come alive. Immediately, their expressions, mannerisms, and feelings are familiar. They become real.

They Fought in Colour is a new look at the Great War. A more accessible look. A more contemporary look. While memories of the conflict and its impacts on our collective consciousness are slowly vanishing, these colourized photographs capture our attention. They provide us with a clearer understanding of what the First World War would have looked like to the people who lived it. If we look closely, the photos have the power to transport us to this poignant reality.

The Vimy Foundation strives to engage Canadians of all ages, particularly students, in recognizing the importance of preserving the stories of Canada’s incredible service and sacrifice during the First World War. Unique programs designed to provide unforgettable overseas experiences — “pilgrimages” — to Vimy and other First World War battlefields, historic sites, and memorials ensure that young Canadians learn, pay tribute to, and bear witness to the events of a century ago. Th e Foundation’s pin and medal program gives Canadians a tangible way to demonstrate that they will not forget the actions of those who came before them.

These initiatives, as well as the creation of large-scale legacy projects such as the Vimy Visitor Education Centre, located at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial site and completed for the Vimy Centennial Commemorations in 2017, ensure we will still discuss the First World War a hundred years from now.

The generation that served Canada in the First World War is all gone, and we no longer have the opportunity to sit on grandpa’s knee and ask him what life was like a century ago. Sadly, only a small number of First World War veterans had their experiences recorded for future study and reflection, a sign of the times in which they lived.

This world has passed, but the images John Babcock saw along the streets of his hometown and during his training experience — and what he would have seen had he made it to the Western Front — come alive in the following pages. We ask that you now be a witness. Lest we forget.

Editorial Reviews

Emmener mes trois fils à Vimy pour souligner le 100e anniversaire de la bataille a été une des expériences les plus significatives de toute notre vie. Nous avons également réalisé que si nous avions vécu au Canada 100 ans plus tôt, mes garçons auraient été des soldats, et non des touristes, et que certains d'entre eux ne seraient peut-être pas rentrés à la maison. Chaque génération doit raconter et répéter l’histoire du rôle important du Canada pendant la Première Guerre mondiale. Ce livre raconte cette histoire de façon brillante et fraîche.

Steve Paikin, présentateur, L’Agenda avec Steve Paikin sur TVO

Showcasing the incredible efforts of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War, They Fought in Colour connects us to the daily life of the soldiers and their families in an entirely new way. This unique book will ensure the service and sacrifice of those who served Canada a century ago are never forgotten.”

— General (Ret'd) Rick Hillier, OC, ONL, CMM, MSC, CD

Taking my three sons to Vimy on the 100th anniversary of the battle was one of the most meaningful experiences of all of our lives. It also occurred to us that had we been living in Canada 100 years earlier, my boys would have been soldiers, not tourists, and some or all of them might not have come home. Every generation needs to tell and re-tell the story of Canada’s important role in the First World War and this book does it in a brilliant and fresh way.

— Steve Paikin, anchor, The Agenda with Steve Paikin on TVO

La Guerre en Couleur jette un regard nouveau et dynamique sur le rôle important du Canada pendant la Première Guerre mondiale. Les images et le texte rendent cette histoire vivante!

La très honorable Adrienne Clarkson, 26e gouverneure-­générale du Canada

They Fought in Colour is an exciting and new look at Canada’s important role in the First World War. The images and the text bring everything alive!

— The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, 26th Governor General of Canada (1999-2005) and Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry

They Fought in Colour is a remarkable achievement, breathing new life into the black-and-white photographs that have, until now, shaped our understanding of the Great War. This incredible colourization project is truly a gift to all Canadians interested in our nation’s military history.

Mark Reid, Editor-in-Chief of Canada's History

Canada’s Great War comes vividly to life in this superb collection of colourized photographs of the battlefield and the homefront. The texts too add much to this nation’s saga of mobilization, sacrifice, and victory. This book is one to pore over again and again.

— J.L. Granatstein, author of The Greatest Victory: Canada’s One Hundred Days, 1918

This book’s moving essays and vivid images blow dust from the pages of history. Together, they present an up-close, very personal and moving look at a war and a time that continue to shape Canada – and the world.

Anthony Wilson-Smith, Historica

Scrawled in chalk on a rusty brick Toronto wall – "Don't Forget Us." Five wounded Canadian soldiers, only one willing, or able to smile, sit beneath the graffiti. This is but one of the extraordinary glimpses of Canadians at home and at the front filled with the tones, tints, and hues of life and death during the First World War. The text and the photographs, in colour for the first time, educate and then haunt us; they are, in fact, quite unforgettable.

Linda Granfield, historian

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