Britain at war in Kodachrome: Surviving photos give glimpse of WWII

Britain at war in Kodachrome: Surviving photos from lost set taken by MoD photographers using original COLOUR Kodak film give incredible glimpse of WWII

  • Pictures range from women making cannon shells in Merseyside to T-class submarine crews playing cards
  • Another image shows an 18-year-old from a small engineering company firing a three-inch mortar in Cornwall
  • Images such as these are so rare because Kodachrome was in very short supply during World War Two
  • Set, known as ‘TR Series’, included in new book from Imperial War Museums called Britain At War In Colour 

These surviving photos from a lost set taken by Ministry of Defence photographers using the original colour Kodak film give an incredible glimpse of World War Two. 

Pictures range from women making cannon shells at an underground factory in Merseyside to crews playing cards aboard a T-class submarine and carrying out tank manoeuvres in Hampshire’s New Forest.

Another image shows an 18-year-old firing a three-inch mortar as women from a small engineering company in Cornwall were treated to a day out to celebrate producing their one millionth mortar bomb. 

Despite colour photography only being invented a few years before World War Two, the collection still manages to capture candid snapshots of life at home and abroad in vivid detail.

Kodachrome is regarded as the first ‘modern’ colour photographic process by using a subtractive process of red-orange and blue-greens to add in colours as the photo was being taken – all of its predecessors for colour pictures used additives to transform black-and-white images.

Images such as these are so rare because Kodachrome was imported into Britain from the USA and was in very short supply during World War Two.

Kodachrome remained the most popular material for photography for 75 years following its invention in the mid-1930s, but was gradually discontinued after the turn of the century as digital photography came to the fore. 

Most of the images in this set were captured by a select band of photographers serving with the British armed forces. Around 3,000 were taken overall, with approximately 1,500 of them passed to the Imperial War Museums (IWR) for preservation in 1949 – the rest became lost. 

The Ministry of Information (MOI), a government department created at the end of the First World War and again in the Second World War, wanted a collection of colour images for documentation purposes and to use in publications able to reproduce colour, such as magazines in the United States. 

The collection, known as the ‘TR Series’, is included in a new book from the IWM called Britain At War In Colour, which will be published tomorrow. 

A Churchill MK II tank and crew from the 43rd Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment, on manoeuvres in Hampshire’s New Forest. The heavily armoured Churchill was designed as an ‘infantry tank’ but suffered from teething problems before it was considered ready for combat. The crews here are wearing their famous black berets, adopted by the original Tank Corps in the 1920s

Eighteen-year-old Eileen Oats, seen in the red had scarf, fires a three-inch mortar at an army test range in Cornwall in 1943. The teenager and other women were all workers from the J&F Pool Ltd, a small engineering company in Hayle, and were treated to a day out to see the weapons in action as a reward for producing their one millionth mortar bomb

Crew members entertain themselves with a card game while aboard a T-class submarine, which was built for long oceanic voyages. As a result, crews were faced with extended periods of time in cramped conditions and, unlike the German U-boats, there were no large convoys to attack with targets few and far between. The names of these five men were not recorded

A worker milling breech blocks for Sten submachine guns at a small engineering works in the south of England in 1943. the components were then sent on to a glass factory for polishing before shipment to the Royal Ordnance factory at Fazakerley, near Liverpool. Each Sten gun cost about 15 shillings (£30 in today’s money) and required five hours to produce

Airborne troops exit a General Aircraft Hotspur glider. The use of gliders to transport men and heavy equipment was deemed an essential component in the development of Britain’s airborne forces. The all-wooden Hotspur was intended as an assault glider, able to carry two pilots and eight men, but was only ever used for training 

‘Lumber Jills’ working at the Women’s Timber Corps training camp at Bulford, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk in 1943. Instructor Peggy Barnett is seen guiding two of her trainees. The Women’s Timber Corps was part of the larger Women’s Land Army and was set up in April 1942 in response to a shortage of timber for items such as pit props and telegraph poles

Women at work in an underground munitions factory at New Brighton on the Wirral, Merseyside, in 1945. The factory was located in underground tunnels and caverns originally used by smugglers and then re-discovered during the construction of the New Brighton Palace amusement arcade in the 1930s

A brand new de Havilland Mosquito FB Mk VI at de Havilland’s factory at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, in 1943. The Mosquito, known as the ‘wooden wonder’ on account of its construction, was a radical design. This particular aircraft served with 23 and 108 Squadrons in the Mediterranean, but was written off in a landing accident in Malta in May 1944

It was a photographic breakthrough that helped capture some of the 20th century’s most iconic images.

But Kodachrome, the first commercially successful colour film, became history itself after it was developed for the last time in November 2013.

Dwayne’s Photo, a family-run business in Parsons, Kansas, was the last place in the world where the 75-year-old Kodak product could be developed.

The die was cast after Kodak announced in June last year that it would stop making the chemicals needed to develop Kodachrome in a round of cost-cutting after the company reported a £84million loss.

But it pledged to supply Dwayne’s Photo in Kansas with the chemicals until the end of 2010.

Kodachrome, the first commercially successful colour film, became history itself after it was developed for the last time in November 2013 (file photo)

The shop’s machine was shut down for the last time but only after fans of the film had travelled there from cross the world to get theirs developed.

British artist Aliceson Carter, 42, travelled from London to get her rolls developed, while a railway worker from Arkansas spent $15,798 (£10,198) developing 1,580 rolls of film of pictures of trains.

Veteran photographer Steve McCurry, best known for his 1985 portrait of an Afghan girl that made the cover of National Geographic Magazine, had a roll of film shot in New York City and India developed.

Before running out of chemicals, Dwayne’s Photos was still processing 700 rolls of film a day.

Its employees took to wearing T-shirts with the epitaph: ‘The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935 – 2010’.

The last roll to be processed was an image taken by Dwayne Steinle, the shop’s owner. 

Grant Steinle, who manages Dwayne’s Photo, previously said: ‘The real difference between Kodachrome and all the other colour films is that the dyes that make up the image you see in the film, in Kodachrome, don’t get incorporated into the film until it is actually developed.

‘It’s a really sad day, it was an important part of our business and Kodachrome was an important part of the history of all of photography.

‘Lots of really iconic images of the 20th century were captured on Kodachrome.’ 

Although it had become iconic, Kodak took the decision to stop production.

A spokesman said at the time: ‘For all its magic, Kodachrome is a complex film to manufacture and an even more complex film to process.’

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