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Ypres

The memoir provides important background details about the production of the sketches and charts made at the Second (1915) and Third (1917) Battle of Ypres (the third battle was also known as ‘Passchendaele’). It focuses on the third battle, emphasising the dangerous aspects of sketching at the front, with constant exposure to enemy fire from both sky and ground.

The picture of the sketcher presented in the memoir is that of a dedicated soldier who understands that it is necessary to run risks in the line of duty. He was, for example, given the task of producing a secret map in preparation for the Third Battle of Ypres. He is portrayed as brave but also human: ‘[A]lways did believe in short cuts – most of us do!’ii His route was over open fields, so he was forced to lie flat on the ground as he was being shelled. The force of a shell and its close proximity were such 'that my feet were lifted up by the push of the displaced earth'.iii The following detailed description is of Hooge Sector:
That night [the same day as he was making the sketch for the Third Battle of Ypres], with an Intelligence Officer, examination is made of the Hooge Sector. We just crossed over the Menin Road as a stray rifle bullet strikes Pte. Peart in the right eye. I examined the huge mine crater created when the enemy occupied the ground. All trenches in bad shape. Stench from decaying corpses, mostly Germans, almost unbearable. Sections of the line are without trenches. Shell holes answer that purpose. Several Listening Posts form a link in the line. Travelling by daylight in this area impossible. The boys are placed in a large shell hole and stay there 48 hours before being relieved! I return to Headquarters having now an idea of the lay of the land, then proceed to make map of Hooge Sector.iv
The drama of the situation is highlighted by the fact that it is night, verbs are omitted (‘all trenches in bad shape’) and an exclamation mark is added. The narrated ‘I’ is one of the boys, but at the same time he has a skill which sets him apart. It is clear from the above extract that only a rudimentary sketch at best could be produced under such conditions. Interestingly, the word ‘map’ is used rather than sketch.

Draycot’s position with regard to the accompanying intelligence officer is not made clear in the memoir. At this point in the war he felt it was necessary to demonstrate the extent of his skills. However, the memoir was written at a time when no such demonstration was necessary. The reader, on the other hand, is introduced to this aspect of Draycot’s war career for the first time. It is the drama and danger of the situation that are emphasised.

The sketch of No Man’s Land below was made at Hooge Ridge. The text accompanying the sketch reads:
DURING THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES, June 2nd to 16th, the Germans came over and occupied the ground shown here. On the extreme left is the ‘Birdcage,’ a disappearing pill-box, which was raised during the night-time and lowered in early morning. It contained many machine guns. A barrier of closely-packed sandbags was placed across the trench (in left hand corner) to stop enfilading fire from the ‘Birdcage’; this doubtless saved many lives. The famous Loop, or Trench 62 – where a company of Princess Pats under Major Jones (afterwards died of wounds in Germany) were taken prisoners after desperate resistance – and part of the ‘Appendix’ Trench (63-66) is situated immediately under the ‘Birdcage.’ The whole ground, trenches, trees etc. are correctly represented as they appeared when the sketch was taken. This sketch was made for Colonel Buller, of the ‘Princess Patricias,’ who was unfortunately killed in a trench near left corner of sketch. It was made under difficult conditions; Sergeant Draycot, of the Intelligence Department, using a sack over his head, with two holes pierced in it for the eyes.
This sketch is one of the few to be signed twice, by hand and in printed form. Sketch of No Man's Land - Ypres - click to enlarge The printed version describes Draycot as ‘sergeant’ and ‘intelligence officer’. By comparing the memoir with the signature on the sketch, it becomes clear that Draycot was promoted from corporal to sergeant, and from regimental topographer to intelligence officer in the space of twenty-six days. The memoir dates Draycot’s promotion to 24 May. It also explains that he gained his promotion on being transferred to the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade (he was officially a member of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry Regiment at the time).

The memoir explains Draycot’s frustration at being taken advantage of without being given either proper recognition or pay: ‘there is no reference to special service pay – for my rate was ALWAYS $1.10 per day. The same rate of pay as a private soldier’.v As the use of underlining and capital letters indicates, the narrated ‘I’ of the memoir is a deeply disappointed man with a split identity as regards regimental allegiance and rank. The sketcher chose the part of his identity that satisfied him most and which was verified in the printed signature. The hand-written signature bears witness to his most widely recognised identity, ‘WMcKL Draycot, PPCLI’ (‘L’ stands for Langdale). It is with some bitterness that the narrator records, ‘you shall keep your identity with the Princess Patricias’.vi As already established, this decision ensured that Draycot would never be eligible for promotion in any regiment other than his own. Ironically, and tragically for Draycot himself, his greatest services were performed when on temporary loan to other regiments.

Birdcage. No Man's Land - Ypres - click to enlargeTwo more details are worthy of note: the personal tone of the sentence relating to the death of Colonel Buller, and the details about the ‘Birdcage’ (enlarged in the sketch to the right). With regard to the former, the memoir makes clear that Draycot resented the system of social privilege and nepotism that led to the granting of a commission. ‘Pawn 883’ demonstrates that he felt most officers were incompetent and overbearing. There were exceptions, however: Colonel Buller, for example, was one of the few to win Draycot’s admiration and sympathy.

The ‘Birdcage’, in the upper left-hand corner of the sketch, is described in detail in the memoir. While the text accompanying the sketch focuses on the construction of the cage itself – information which the memoir shows was gained some time later and probably from German prisonersvii – the memoir relates incidents that were specifically connected with being in close proximity to the cage. The emphasis is on human response rather than physical construction:
A small brook flowed through Sanctuary Wood. Any activity in this area could be seen by the observer in the Bird Cage. However, it was necessary to obtain information during daylight. Forgetful, as we all become when engrossed in a subject, my mind being on my work led me forward scanning here and there taking notes and measurements. Something compelled me to turn round. Horrors of Horrors! There was the Bird Cage – in full view! Stupefied, my blood froze at the sight. He could see me! My position was likened to an oasis in the desert.viii

ii 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), 96.
iii Ibid., 97.
iv Ibid., 97.
v Ibid., 103.
vi Ibid., 103.
vii Ibid., 101.
viii Ibid., 101.

Next: Ypres - Part Two
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