The Second World War in Color


photo credit: Imperial War Museum
my favorite photo:  a RAF pilot reading
John Buchan’s Greenmantle while getting a haircut
(I see the book, my son sees the Spitfire!)

Sniffing around our public library, I found The Second World War in Color a companion book to a documentary by the same name.  Initially, I thought I’d just flip through the book and return it to the library.  The pictures, however, were compelling.  Respect demanded more than a flip-through.  Then the diary entries hooked me; soon I started on the title page and read through the book. 

As in this blog entry, the photographs and the diary entries in the book have no relation to one another.

The diary entries and official announcements come from combatants and civilians from most of the nations involved in WWII.  A Russian surgeon writes:

Even those who disliked and dread Stalin have learned to trust him.  Propaganda?  Yes and No.  He has succeeded in transforming the country, though often by savage methods.

A British pilot, killed on his first flight:

The most terrible aspects of Nazism is its system of education, of driving in instead of leading out, and putting the state about all things spiritual.  And so I have been fighting.

The notes of Theodor Morell (condensed here), Adolf Hitler’s personal physician on 20.7.44, the day of the explosion set by Lt. Col. von Stauffenberg which killed four officers, interested me so soon after watching the movie Valkyrie.  Hitler went on the radio later explaning that his survival was ‘a confirmation of my assignment from Providence to carry on my life’s goal as I have done hitherto’. 

Blood pressure [evening after explosion] 165-170
Blister, burns, contusions, open flesh wounds 

Photo credit show me a man reading and I’m smitten

Ivor Rowberry’s letter to his mother, written in the event of his death, won the Best Letter Written by a Member of the Armed Forces during the Second World War contest.  Oh. My. Heart.  Yet the wry humor about grammatical tenses! It begins:

Dear Mom,
   Usually when I write a letter it is very much overdue, and I make every effort to get it away quickly.  This letter, however, is different.  It is a letter that I hoped you would never recieve, as it is verification of that terse, black-edged card which you received some time ago, and which has caused you so much grief.  It is because of this grief that I wrote this letter, and by the time you have finished reading it I hope that it has done some good, and that I have not written it in vain.  It is very difficult to write now of future things in the past tense, so I am returning to the present.

Photo credit British soldier and Italian women doing wash

I particularly liked the glimpse of community (perhaps membership, à la Wendell Berry…in microcosm?) between British liberator and the liberated people of Belgium in this letter dated 9-29-1944

All these people had only a few rationed, foul cigarettes and had not seen chocolate for more than 4 years.  How pleased they are when we give them a bar!  They give us all they can, we give them all we can, there is no mention of money at all, and it is all quite a Christian affair.  For four months now, money has just not meant a thing to me; I rather like it.

Because of this book, I learned of the Imperial War Museum Collections, another place to visit if I ever make it to London.

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5 thoughts on “The Second World War in Color

  1. The Imperial War Museum is a must-see!!  We easily spent a full day there–initially thinking we were going only to see the airplanes–we lost ourselves in the amazing displays of daily life during the war.This post makes me want to find a book of WWII letters.

  2. Reminisce Books put out a book called The Victory Era in Color! [sic] which I’ve enjoyed very much (got it cheap through E-bay).  It doesn’t sound as meaty as your book, but it is amazing to see the events and people in color when our minds often think of that era in black and white images.Yes, the Imperial War Museum has to be one of our “must see” places if we ever go back to England again. (We went in 2001 for our 20th aniversary.)

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