When you think about World War II, a few specific images probably come to mind. You think of the Nazi party, the reign of the dictator, Adolph Hitler, and probably imagine soldiers fighting in tattered, black-and-white photos.
While the photographs from the time might depict a battle in grayscale, the war itself was fought in living color. Sadly, while these black-and white-images accurately chronicle the events that transpired, they also can make history feel like something long forgotten.
Colorizing black-and-white images is a way to bring the past back to life. Royston Leonard, an amateur photographer, decided to render some infamous images from World War II and the Pacific War in order to remind me people that history still touches us to this day.
Fifty-four-year-old electrician Royston Leonard from Cardiff, Wales has taken on the serious task of bringing history to life. “I’ve seen a lot of photos of the European war in color but almost nothing from the Pacific War,” he said when explaining his decision to colorize these incredible photographs.
The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 began the U.S.’s involvement in World War II and the start of the Pacific War. There were around 36 million casualties during the Pacific War, and more than three million American troops were called to serve the Pacific War.
War began in the Pacific in 1937 when Japan invaded China, hoping to take control over the entirety of Southeast Asia. In 1940, Japan joined the Axis alliance with Germany and Italy when it signed the Tripartite Pact.
Guam and Wake Island were taken by Japan in December 1941, and by the Philippines in 1942. Then they captured the Dutch East Indies, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, and Burma. The Japanese only began to retreat after the U.S. won the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
During the War in the Pacific, there were an estimated 36 million casualties, a horrifying fact that is often overshadowed by the European casualties of World War II. Thankfully, with these photos, these soldiers are finally getting their due.
The Philippines were freed in 1944 by American forces, and the U.S. began to attack the Japanese mainland. Burma was taken by British forces, with the Allies facing an enemy whose soldiers considered it an honor to die in battle.
Leonard was inspired to colorize these photographs after realizing there was a serious disparity in the way the wars in Europe and the Pacific have been depicted throughout history. Although color has been added to numerous photographs from the war in Europe, there aren’t many images of the war in the Pacific at all.
“The Japanese code was to not surrender and to fight to the death which was their way to die in battle with honor, almost no prisoners were taken unless they were badly injured and could no longer fight,” said Leonard.
These photographs give us a fresh take on the horrors of a war that is so often brushed aside. The colorization transforms each image from a memory of a bygone era to real events that took the lives of so many brave American soldiers.
You can practically feel the heat coming off of the flames in this image. Look at the two soldiers making their way through the bombed out village, desperate to seek safety, determined to survive.
This may look like a scene out of a movie, but it’s all too real. The journalist who took this photo worked alongside American GIs throughout the War in the Pacific solely so they could chronicle what exactly was going on around them.
Because of the war, many once-great buildings like this bombed out church, turned into the centerpieces of major battles. Snipers would often use their towers to take out targets while still remaining behind cover themselves.
When you look at palm trees like these, you might picture a dream vacation or an island getaway. However beautiful these surroundings may be, the realities of war cannot be glossed over with a pretty background, and this photo is proof.
This photograph managed to capture a full scale assault on a group of soldiers who were trying to take refuge behind a tank. You can actually see the bomb dropping at the front of the tank itself, and the men crouched behind it for safety.
The ravages of war are tough to see in any photograph, but something about a black-and-white image puts them at a safe distance from the viewer and makes it easier to disconnect. When those images are colorized it reminds the viewer how real these horrors were.
This photograph shows a group of American GIs helping a wounded civilian get out of the crossfire and into an area where he can receive that medical help that he needs. You practically feel the urgency of the situation just by looking at this image.
While it is more common to see photographs of the actual battles themselves or the soldiers fighting in them, it is less common to see images of fallen soldiers. This striking portrait of the fallen heroes covered in the colors of the country they served is captivating.
In black and white, it is almost impossible to understand the gravity and danger of the weapons that were used during the War in the Pacific. Here, the colorization serves as a potent reminder of just how dangerous it was for the soldiers each and every day.
The photos are not just of American soldiers, either. This image captures an image of American soldiers and soldiers from the Philippines socializing and exchanging information while they await further instructions and marching order.
This aerial shot of an American Navy vessel full of wounded soldiers is striking to say the least. Seeing these wounded men just waiting, unaware their photos are being taken feels like it could have been snapped just yesterday.
While colorization might not seem like an important thing in historical photographs, these images are proof that it is. By rendering these photos into color, the viewer gets a more accessible depiction of events as they transpired, making history real instead of just something in a dusty book.
It’s amazing to see all of the hard work that Royston Leonard put into colorizing these photographs. Thank goodness some light is finally being shed on the specifics of the War in the Pacific; it’s about time.
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