By Mark McConville
THE GRIM reality of desert warfare during World War Two has been brought to light in a series of vivid colourised pictures.
Incredible images show Winston Churchill shaking hands with Lieutenant General Ramsden in the El Alamein area, British Crusader tanks passing a burning German Panzer IV tank during Operation Crusader and a New Zealand soldier posing with twin Bren guns in Libya.
Other striking shots show a member of a Long Range Desert Group patrol posing with a Vickers ‘K’ Gas-operated machine gun on a Chevrolet 30-cwt truck, a British patrol is on the lookout for enemy movements over a valley in the Western Desert and an Indian rifleman in a prone, firing position in Egypt.
The original black and white photographs were painstakingly colourised by design engineer Paul Reynolds (48), from Birmingham, UK.
“I mostly colourise war photos because each photo usually has a story to tell, stories of real everyday people,” he said.
“I think colourising detailed photos really brings them to life. You notice detail that usually gets missed due to the monotone background.
“The content of the photo conveys its own message; however I am glad that by colourising these photos more people are aware of the happenings of WWII.”
Another of the colourised images shows Corporal Sillito of the SAS in 1942, several days after his historical trek with bandages still visible on his feet.
As a member of a four-man SAS patrol, he and the patrol were tasked to blow up the rail line in the enemy’s rear, just before the offensive at El Alamein.
Sillito and his Lt crept up on some guards to eliminate them prior to laying charges, however the Lt’s machine gun jammed and a fire fight ensued with the enemy. With the Lt killed and the enemy alerted, he got separated in the fog of war from the rest of his group.
He had two choices before him, surrender or walk the 180-mile journey back to allied lines, as surrender wasn’t going to happen. Hitler had issued his notorious ‘Commando Order’ ordering all commando forces be shot immediately and not taken prisoner.
With no food or water, Sillito began the long march back to allied lines, thru the western desert.
He first headed for a wadi (dry riverbed) used by the SAS and LRDG as a secret emergency store and rendezvous which was ‘only’ 100 miles or so distance, planning on resting and replenishing there before continuing the trek to allied lines.
According to a contemporary account: “It started to rain and as he was soaked to the skin, starting to walk at 2pm he had covered 25 miles by dawn the next day. He tried to sleep but could not, so he walked all that day covering another 30 miles. During the next night he covered a further 20 miles, still without food or water.
A puddle saved him for a time, but a tin of bully beef he found in a destroyed truck was useless to him as he could not swallow, he kept the tin and used it store his urine which he would drink as he walked.”
He made it to the wadi – but there was no food or water. The account goes on to say “the remaining distance … was a horrible nightmare, of falling unconscious many times, lying helpless for long periods, too weak to stand he even tried to commit suicide with a rock, but later said of it ‘I didn’t even have the strength to give myself a headache.'”
Eight days after the beginning of his nightmare, Sillito was found unconscious, but just alive, by SAS comrades in the wadi where he lay. He made a full recovery from his ordeal.
Sillito’s trek went down in history as longest escape on foot by a soldier, it wasn’t until another SAS soldier – Chris Ryan surpassed that with his 180 mile escape and evade trek thru Iraq into Syria in the first Gulf War 1991.
Striking images like these are featured in British author Michael D. Carroll’s new book, Retrographic on the colourisation of historical images. It is available on Amazon now for £16.85.
For more information visit: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Retrographic-Historys-Exciting-Images-Transformed/dp/1908211504