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The Memoir - Part Two

Draycot’s memoir is by his own definition a ‘story’ of his experiences during the war. It covers, in chronological order, his enlistment, journey to Europe, arrival in France, the battles in which he took part (Ypres, the Somme and Vimy Ridge in particular), his sick leave, and demobilisation in 1919. It is based in part on his diary entries but also on memory. In assessing the historical and literary value of the memoir, it is necessary to take into consideration the state of his memory at the time of writing.

There is no reference to memory problems in Draycot’s diaries or private letters; his official post-war records, on the other hand, make several references to ‘loss of memory’. The Overseas Board Report of 3 July 1918, for example, includes a neurological report dated 1 February 1919 that describes Draycot as follows:
Patient is a man apparently in middle life who looks to be at least 5 years older than his stated age of 35. He has an anxious expression of face but colour is average. Looks somewhat reduced in flesh and is not very brisk in his movements. Intellect normal, memory poor (n.p.).
From 1919 onwards, Draycot’s diaries make repeated references to physical and mental disorders that the narrating ‘I’ relates specifically to war trauma. His recollections are thus the product of a memory that, if we are to believe the medical reports and later diaries, was not always reliable. As the purpose of the present discussion is to ascertain the identity of the narrating ‘I’ at the time of writing, the effects of memory do not need to be discussed at length here. They are, however, of significance in assessing the fictional content of Draycot’s memoir. The memoir is a record of how the narrating ‘I’ experienced events twenty years after their actual occurrence; it is also a demonstration of how the narrated ‘I’ wished to be remembered.

partial edited text by Draycot - click image to enlarge and receive the complete text

Draycot subjected his memoir to a series of revisions (see image above). These were clearly made at different times, as the handwriting changes. Some of the handwritten alterations in the typewritten script suggest that he continued to revise his account until he was quite elderly. He corrected place-names and added facts and adverbs for extra effect. Interestingly, the majority of the corrections/additions are to be found in the first half of the memoir. A possible explanation is that the details of the earlier events of the war had become less clear in his mind; in checking the facts, he had been forced to return to the diary entries. Also, the events of the second half of the memoir, and particularly the Battle of Vimy Ridge had already been thoroughly processed by Draycot during his sick leave.

Draycot’s recollections were therapeutic, as they helped him to come to terms with four traumatic years at the front. The few inhabitants of Lynn Valley who still remember Draycot confirm that he was reluctant to speak of the war. His memoir was a farewell to a period of life that he wished to forget. It was also an appeal to end all wars. The final words of the memoir, capitalised in places, are a direct challenge: ‘To you who will not think ... Go to WAR, and Taste its Bitter Cup! What? You don’t want to? Then THINK, AND YOU WON’T’ (255). The memoir is thus the only autobiographical medium employed by Draycot that combines the past, present and future.
Revised diary page - click image to enlarge
At the same time as he reviewed his memoir, Draycot made minor alterations to the diary entries that he consulted. To the left is a typical example of a revised entry from Draycot’s 1915 diary (8 and 9 October): the focus is on improving the handwriting rather than on making any changes in content. The aim is to make events clear not only to himself but to anyone who might read his diaries. The handwriting is clearly that of an older man.

The memoir, by Draycot’s own admission, was also an attempt to answer a painful and constantly recurring question among his acquaintances, namely ‘why did you not receive a commission?’ He was promoted to Sergeant and Acting Intelligence Officer in 1917. These titles were not formally recognised at the end of the war, and despite repeated attempts by Draycot to have his rank officially confirmed, his title, as already established, remained ‘Private Draycot’.

In his memoir he offers two explanations as to why his promotion was never confirmed: he was only on loan from the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry Regiment while producing his sketches and reports and was thus not eligible for promotion by other regiments; and his requests to make permanent his promotion were turned down on the grounds that he had left his application too late (the memoir contains copies of the official letters of refusal). The memoir also implies a third, more insidious reason: social class. As a member of the working class, it was difficult for Draycot to gain promotion. The bitterness which this created permeates the memoir. The narrated ‘I’ wishes to be remembered as one worthy of officer status: it is the memoir and not the official military records that ‘tells the truth’.

Of the four media discussed here, the memoir is the medium which best enables a scholar to understand the relationship between the different accounts of Draycot’s war career: it addresses the production of the different representations, textual as well as pictorial, and the circumstances under which they were created. Before comparing Draycot’s memoir and sketches, I give a brief introduction to the production and distinguishing features of military sketches.

Next: The Military Sketch
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