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Draycot's Military Sketches

The detailed military sketch, which was often based on a simple sketch such as the one below of Observation Ridge (discussed in the section 'Sketches vs Photographs'), was intended as a complement to a map; while a sketch shows the contours of hills, for example, the map frequently omits these. Such details could make the difference between life and death. As Legge observes:
There are several reasons why ordinary maps of the country are not sufficient; one is because the contours are not generally shown, and even where they are shown, as is the case with ordnance maps, the vertical interval, or rise from one contour to another, is so great as to render the map of little real value for tactical purposes, when dealing with a small piece of country such as that on which a batttalion would have to manoeuvre.viii
With a rise of 50 feet, there could be small hills, for example, behind which troops could be hidden. Observation Ridge sketch, click to enlarge New roads could also have been constructed since the original production of the map. Important details are also omitted from a map: it will not, for example, show whether the land is cultivated. This could be of prime importance when planning troop movements. Nor does a map indicate whether there are ditches by fences or hedges. This could be an important omission, as ditches were invaluable as fire trenches.

Draycot produced primarily military and field sketches. One surprising feature of his sketches is that they do not contain a scale. This was a fundamental requirement. It was not always possible to include a scale while under battle conditions, however, because measuring instruments might not be available. While an official manual notes that:
ranges may be of the utmost value to an officer later on, and if no instrument is available to get an accurate estimate and the sketcher is unable to pace to these objects, their ranges must be judged, a note to this effect being entered on the sketch,ix
there are no such notifications or measurements on Draycot’s sketches. A notebook in which he sketched in the 1950s, however, does contain the scales shown immediately below. An intriguing question is, ‘Why did Draycot omit the scale, one of the most fundamental features of a military sketch?’ A possible explanation is provided by Captain Colin M. Stevens CD below.

Sketch notebook - scales, click to enlargeWhat is equally interesting is the fact that Draycot rarely included the second basic feature of a military sketch: the true and magnetic north. It is these two details that enable one to ‘set’ the sketch, that is to ‘lay it out in the same position as the ground it illustrates, or is going to illustrate, so that the north point on it, [sic] actually points to the north, etc’.x It cannot be assumed that the north is at the top of the sketch, as the sketch should be drawn with its top facing the direction in which troops were moving; North can thus face the bottom edge or the side of a sketch. Why did Draycot not indicate the direction of north on his sketches? Only two surviving sketches indicate north (one, called 'Sketch of Pozieres', is reproduced below; the other is 'Battle of Ypres').

I discussed the questions of scale and marking north with Captain Colin M. Stevens CD, Canadian Army, Reserve Intelligence Officer for the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. Captain Stevens explained that, since soldiers in World War One tended to remain in the same position for long periods of time and thus knew the directions of the compass, it was not always necessary to mark these on sketches. Soldiers were also familiar with distances because they were well acquainted with the specific area in which they were entrenched.

Judging from descriptions in his memoir, one of Draycot’s specialities was eye sketching (as seen in the sketch of Pozieres below), a form of military sketching without the aid of special instruments, which uses only a board, paper, pencil and flat ruler. The eye sketcher must pay special attention to perspective. As with a map, an eye sketch must be set. During World War One, this was accomplished as follows:
a ruler is placed on the sketch on a line which joins two stations, the distance between which the sketcher has already paced. The sketch is then twisted without moving the ruler until the edge of the ruler is in line with the road between the station at which the sketcher has arrived and the station s/he has just left.xi
Sketch of Pozieres - click to enlargeGood eye sketches call for attention to detail and considerable accuracy. The ‘truth’ which Draycot’s sketches portray is based not only on accurate observation but also on the meticulous application of military sketching technique. To emphasise just how accurate this technique was, it is necessary to give a brief account of the sketching process.xii

Once the scale was drawn and the sketch set, the first station on the sketch was marked and the ruler aligned on it. A plumb line was used to ensure that the ruler was correctly placed. The latter was aligned on any objects required in the sketch. The position of these objects was fixed by intersecting lines drawn from another station. The distance was then paced to the second station and marked off according to scale along the line drawn from the first to the second station.

In this way, the position of the second station was fixed. The sketcher proceeded in a similar fashion to include all the stations and objects on the sketch. Thus, eye sketchers such as Draycot must have a great deal of patience, not to mention technical and mathematical knowledge.


viii R.F. Legge, Military Sketching and Map Reading for Non-Coms. & Men (London: Gale & Polden, 1916), 1.
ix Ibid., 2.
x Ibid., 26.
xi Ibid., 48.
xii A more detailed description can be found in ibid., ch. 8.

Draycot's Military Sketches - Part Two
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