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Sketch vs Photo - The 3 Battles   |   Ypres  |   Ypres - Part 2   |   Ypres - Part 3   |   The Somme   |   Vimy Ridge   |   Vimy Ridge - Part 2

The Somme

The second major battle in which Draycot took part was Somme. Only one of his sketches of the battle remains. Entitled ‘View taken from junction of Sudbury and Kenora trench’, it is in his only surviving sketchbook and is shown below. View taken from junction of Sudbury and Kenora trench - click to enlarge The contours of the hills are clearly marked, as well as several trenches, a valley, a few buildings and a dugout. When the picture is magnified, dugouts can also be discovered in the top left corner, hidden among the trees. The German line is also marked in this area. The sketch is produced on linen.

Two other sketches, one of Ypres and the other of Vimy, are reproduced on the same linen. There is no accompanying text. It is possible that Draycot transferred the three sketches to linen with a view to using them for publication purposes. Potential sources of danger, such as a ravine and woods where the enemy might hide, are clearly indicated. Paynsely Farm, a possible refuge, is marked; this detail might not have been picked up in a photograph. The ‘lone tree’ to the east of the farm is a useful point of orientation. There are no embellishments: the sketch is highly functional.

The memoir provides a number of interesting details about Draycot’s work as a sketcher at the Somme. The chapter describing this part of his war career begins with the task of training eight observers in ‘field sketching and general observation work’.xxiv The narrator describes the men’s lack of talent, acknowledging at the same time that they were faced with an impossible task: in addition to producing accurate sketches with a minimum of training, they were expected to learn basic intelligence work in one day. Significantly, nothing is said about the men’s subsequent war career. For the remainder of the section on the Somme, Draycot was clearly alone when sketching on a mission.

He bemoans the fact that there was no suitable draughting room for him, and no equipment; at one point, he is reduced to stripping the local church to procure a makeshift sketching board. He is highly resourceful and willing to bend the rules to gain secret information: on one occasion he even bribes a staff sergeant with a tin of sardines.xxv He stresses the danger of making sketches at the front: ‘[W]hile standing, taking notes and making sketches, four shells came over in rapid succession bursting but 20 yards away from us, scattering the fragments of dead humans in all directions’. xxvi He presents himself as a man to be relied upon, one who can acquire information and sketch under the most dangerous circumstances, and who can be depended upon to gather up-to-date information where all others have failed.xxvii

View taken from Sudbury and Kenora Trench -click to enlarge While attempting to provide sketches before the battle of the Somme, Draycot was wounded in the leg. He used his diary to record this detail. His memoir reads: ‘[W]hat of that as long as my leg is not removed! However, it delayed me until the evening, when, my latest data was entered onto maps and written up as my weight was borne on one foot – same like stork!’.xxviii It seems that his primary task at the Somme was to gather information with which to update existing maps. There is less emphasis than at Ypres on the task of sketching. He clearly had a number of such maps beside him as he wrote his memoir. He drew plans of towns and villages, as well as trenches, in order to plot the location of respective battalion headquarters.

In relation to the town of Albert, Draycot records: ‘[My] copy - in front of me at present, brings back memories!’xxix These plans were an integral part of the writing process, as not only the topographical details but also the circumstances under which the plans were produced were recalled. The quality of the plans and sketches bears witness to Draycot’s skill as a draughtsman; the stories behind the production of such plans and sketches are those of a hero who was exposed to danger and horror, constantly at the beck and call of his commanding officers, and for whom there was little reward. There is little rest to be had: sketching and intelligence work are carried out night and day, in torrential rain and thick mud, and all alone much of the time.

Towards the end of the section on the Somme, the memoir provides important details about how Draycot’s sketches and plans were utilised. He was requested to produce a ‘panorama sketch of the battlefront and terrain in rear of the enemy'.xxx On completion of this, he
sat with the General for an hour or more poring over the Sketch, aeroplane photographs, and maps, working out objectives, and possible attacks and counter attacks that the enemy might make, enfilading-fire, contours, height and depression of ground advantageous or otherwise to us, and information taken from prisoners.xxxi
The capital ‘S’ in ‘Sketch’ suggests that the narrator regarded his drawing as a vital source of information. It is also the first to be mentioned, taking precedence over all others. Not only does he present himself as a sketcher, he is part of the planning operation. He interprets visual representations in terms of their practical value in the field. Accuracy is of primary importance. This is emphasised in the final section of the memoir, describing the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the most important victory of the war for the Canadian forces.


xxiv Draycot, Walter MacKay. ‘Pawn No. 883. Being the Adventures of a Pawn of War in the Affair of 1914-18. Recollections of My Activities during the First World War, 1914-1918.’ Unpublished memoir. North Vancouver Museum & Archives' (1938), 135.
xxv Ibid., 141.
xxvi Ibid., 143.
xxvii Ibid., 143.
xxviii Ibid., 145.
xxix Ibid., 146.
xxx Ibid., 145.
xxxi Ibid., 153.

Next: Vimy Ridge
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