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Diary Entries and Photographs Compared

Photographs and diary entries are compared here on the basis of subject rather than chronology. There are five areas of comparison: bathing and cleanliness, dugouts and trenches, defiance of death, authority and control, and sick leave. The annotations on Draycot’s photographs are included in the discussion, where relevant. All the photographs can be enlarged. The diary entries are not reproduced here; instead, the relevant sections are quoted in order to save space.
Bathing and cleanliness
Bathing in sewers at Ypres - click to enlargeThe photograph to the left shows Draycot in his usual position, in the foreground. He does not appear to be posing, unlike his fellow soldier. Rather, he is seen to be active, in motion and has a sense of purpose (the photographer appears to have interrupted him). The crouching position accentuates his arm muscles and detracts attention from the slightness of his build. His hair is short and his moustache well trimmed. There is a gleam in his eyes and a smile on his face. He attempts to transcend the filth of the trenches and maintain dignity by attending to personal hygiene

One may wonder how effective a wash might be in the sewers; clearly Draycot and his companion felt that it was better than nothing. In his right hand Draycot is holding something, perhaps a tablet of soap. Soap was hard to come by, at least the disinfectant variety, as his diary entry for 5 September 1915 demonstrates: ‘Church parade at 10.15 a.m. Afternoon Wallach, Brozon, Driscoll & self went to Erquingham, entirely reserved for officers. I experience great difficulty in getting lifebuoy or any disinfectant soap.’

The use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ suggests that it was only Draycot who was interested in buying soap. It is significant that there are only two soldiers in the photograph, suggesting that it was Draycot and his companion’s decision to have a bath and not an official order. Indeed, Draycot was clearly sceptical of such orders; the diary entry for 10 December 1915, for example, reads: ‘The company march to Baillent (16 or 18 kilometres return) for purpose of having a bath!!!!!! A wast [sic] of time & shoe leather as the men will need another bath at the end thro’ perspirating on return journey.’

This entry shows that Draycot not only had a concern for hygiene but was also critical of authority. The addition of six exclamation marks emphasises his scepticism. The spelling mistake and the abbreviation of ‘through’, both unusual for Draycot, may reflect his tiredness after a long march.

It seems that baths that were officially ordered could, but did not necessarily lead to a change of underwear, as the entry for 17 January 1915 demonstrates: ‘some get clean change of underwear’. The implication is that Draycot was not one of the lucky ones. Whereas the photograph from Ypres suggests that he could take matters into his own hands, the diary entries demonstrate that personal initiative could have only a limited effect: Draycot is not in total control of even the most basic human needs.


Next: Dugouts and Trenches
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