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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

Vimy Ridge

Sketch of Vimy Ridge - click image to enlarge The sketch to the right appears in the field sketch book mentioned on the previous page. It is particularly interesting because much of the detail has a clear practical application. A steep bank, for example, is marked as both a point of reference and a potential difficulty. Hedges for shelter or behind which the enemy might be hiding are clearly delineated.

Features which are easily recognisable are marked in larger letters, for example, ‘look like steps’, ‘low ground’, ‘possibly very wet’. The point of view from which the sketch is drawn is identified in the observation ‘looking south’.

Almost one quarter of the memoir is devoted to Vimy Ridge, Draycot’s final battle. Some of his finest sketches also date from this period. Below right is a panorama sketch of Vimy Ridge made on 30 March 1917. The attention to detail is vastly superior to that of a photograph: Panorama Sketch of Vimy Ridge - click image to enlarge features of the terrain in the foreground and background are clearly reproduced, mine craters are marked in two places, wire entanglements are identified, the trees in the background are drawn both with and without foliage, the twists and turns of the various trenches, even old ones such as the French trench in the foreground, are reproduced, and there is a broken cart in the foreground.

The typewritten text below is an example of the detailed descriptions that accompanied Draycot’s sketches; it is taken from the panorama ink sketch of Vimy Ridge seen here to the right. Draycot was responsible for both the text and sketch (click on image for full text). It provides details of importance to a sketcher, including dimensions and trench construction. It also reveals the narrator’s sympathy for the tragic deaths of fellow soldiers who had been left ‘just as they fell’. This abandonment is symbolised by the broken French wagon, which, as it is placed in the foreground of the sketch, has little practical value as a landmark. The landscape is pitted and scarred. It evokes powerful memories: the physical and mental landscapes merge, landscape becomes ‘memoryscape’. Draycot could not look at this sketch without remembering the stories of suffering that are hidden behind it. As the most important battle for the allies, as well as for Draycot himself (he was, in fact, mentioned in despatches), it is not surprising that it is described in greater detail than either the Battles of Ypres or the Somme.

Draycot's text for Panorama view of Vimy Ridge sketch - click for full text

The preparations for Vimy Ridge were made months in advance. The memoir account begins with a few details of the initial advance towards the battlefield on 22 October 1916. During the months leading up to the battle in April 1917, Draycot was busy with intelligence work. Much of this was top secret, as his diary entry for Monday 19 February demonstrates: ‘Very busy with secret maps “pour le grand avance.”’ The narrator of the memoir describes how he drew plans of observation posts, updated maps, surveyed No Man’s Land, plotted trench attacks, drew enemy nose caps for division headquarters, surveyed the condition of roads, designed special message forms for use during attack, and – once victory was gained – sketched the country over which the enemy had retreated.

Some of the most interesting observations are those which relate to Draycot’s relations with others, especially his commanding officers and fellow soldiers. The section on Vimy Ridge is particularly revealing with respect to the human side of intelligence work: Draycot is both isolated and a team member. He is subject to rules but defies these in the service of truth. He understands both the German and the Canadian point of view, and clearly has some sympathy for the Germans (‘They are but pawns of war, like ourselves’, he notes; for the first time, Draycot gains access to enemy diaries and reads them).xxxii The Vimy section of the memoir records meetings with people from very different walks of life. Each meeting reveals a new facet of the narrating ‘I’s character and philosophy. The memoir demonstrates that the recorder of the landscape is also a keen observer of humanity.

xxxii 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), 181 and 205–8.

Next: Vimy Ridge - Part Two
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