Over a century ago, (William) Ernest Keeling of the UK enlisted as a motorcycle dispatch rider early in the war. Having trained throughout the summer months of 1915, he arrived on the Western Front in late July 1915.
In summer 2019, his descendants, now living in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, discovered a photo of Ernest Keeling in our collection of pictures from the First World War in Colour project. This is the first time a subject in one of our colourized photos has been identified!
The photo, taken by official Canadian war photographer William Rider-Rider in November 1917, features a dispatch rider riding away from a mobile pigeon loft built onto a converted London bus. This photo was colourized by the Vimy Foundation and digital colourist Canadian Colour, and is featured in the book They Fought in Colour, published by Dundurn Press in 2018.
Between the summer of 1916 and the end of the war, Canada’s official war photographers took nearly 8,000 photographs. However, most of the records related to these images do not have any information on the subjects of the photos.
This discovery has been an emotional one for the grandchildren of Ernest Keeling, cousins Mihiteria King of NZ, Sarah Buttimore (nee Keeling) of the UK, and Graham Keeling of Australia. They have newspaper clippings of Ernest with pigeons on his motorbike during the First World War, but hadn’t come across the photo in colour. Uncovering the service of their grandfather from the war has been extremely impactful.
They have also since discovered that two of Ernest’s medals have been located in the The Royal Engineers Museum in Kent U.K.. All their research is compiled on a neat webpage for safekeeping. You can find out more about Ernest Keeling here.