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Draycot's Military Sketches - Part Two

Where possible, sketches were coloured in accordance with specific rules: black for villages and houses, blue for water, green for woods, burnt sienna for contours, red for railways, entrenchments and British troops.xiii Of the surviving sketches by Draycot, none was coloured, and there is no reference in the memoir to using coloured pencils. It is clear, however, as the drawings published on this website indicate, that Draycot was very skilful in using ink.

Panoramic Sketch-click to enlarge A number of Draycot’s sketches are so-called panorama sketches (right), which reproduce on paper ‘the view obtained by an observer from any given point’.xiv Official map books identify five basic principles of panorama sketches: the ground should be thoroughly studied with the naked eye and with binoculars before starting to sketch; the principles of perspective should be followed; simplicity is a guiding rule (it must be clear what each line represents); conventional outlines only should be used for natural objects such as trees, roads and buildings; and a firm, continuous line should be used at all times.

When Captain Colin Stevens was asked to assess the quality of Draycot’s sketches – eye and panorama – he confirmed that it is ‘very good’: the sketches are simple, they use proportion, all points in the landscape are in their correct relative positions, the lines are firm, and there are no artistic flourishes to confuse the user. Captain Stevens also observed that Draycot had a particularly keen eye for detail, noting, for example, the meticulous depiction of trees, where each individual branch is clearly reproduced. Broken branches were excellent points of recognition for soldiers.

Like the memoir discussed in The Memoir and The Memoir - Part 2, military sketches and charts have a distinctive and coherent structure that relies on a special language whose object is to enable the reader/viewer to make sense of what is being observed. While the memoirist relies on linguistic and stylistic devices, the sketcher employs specialist terminology such as ‘cols’, ‘nullahs’ and ‘underfeatures’. A sketcher also employs a variety of technical terms, including ‘base’, ‘bearing’, ‘horizontal equivalent’, ‘meridian’ and ‘ray’.xv

As part of his task as a sketcher, Draycot went on regular reconnaissance trips. He obtained and recorded information regarding the nature and resources of the country and, more particularly, communications or facilities for the movement of troops. The information gathered was presented not only in sketch but also report form. The latter was an important complement to the sketch. It had to conform to strict formal requirements regarding content and language/terminology. Chapter IX of Aids to Scouting provides valuable advice on the content and style of reports at the time of World War One: the writer should, for example, use as few words as possible, keep to the point, write clearly so the report could be read even at night, assume that the commanding officer may not be fully conversant with all details, stick to the facts, and record the date and time of writing.

Chapter X of Aids to Scouting identified thirty-five headings for the report, all of which had to be memorised. Reports had to note, among other things, roads, rivers, railways, woods, villages, bridges and the enemy’s position. With respect to roads, gradients, road surface, halting places and crossroads must be identified. Considerable detail was required when describing rivers, including the direction of the current, nature of the banks, character of the country by the side of the river, liability to flooding, whether it was navigable or tidal, depth of water, and breadth. When reporting on railways, it was necessary to note the features of the countryside transected, as well as details of the line and stations, including facilities provided. As regards woods, the war sketcher was required to report on details of the type and density of the trees, anything which could serve as a landmark for the troops passing through, and whether the woods were exposed to artillery fire or not.

Reports on villages had to include the nature of the houses, suitability as a defence post, communications within the village, and the number of troops that could be billeted. Details about bridges included their width and length, material from which they were constructed, and whether they could be commanded from the ground near at hand. Finally, with respect to the enemy’s position, the report needed to note its strengths and weaknesses, approaches and cover, lines of attack, location of guns, obstacles erected, numbers, and the existence of any intermediate points which might or might not need to be captured before attacking.

Draycot’s memoir refers to reconnaissance trips made both during the day and at night. Unfortunately, no reports are to be found among the papers housed at the North Vancouver Museum & Archives.While military sketches and reports complemented each other, they were designed to be used independently. Where time permitted, reports could also be consulted, but in the field it was the sketch that was of paramount importance. No report or photograph can reproduce the detail found in a sketch.


xiii R.F. Legge, Military Sketching and Map Reading for Non-Coms. & Men (London: Gale & Polden, 1916), 44.
xiv Ibid., 69.
xv For those interested in sketching terminology, examples and explanations are provided in Ibid., ch. 3.

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