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War's End: Diaries and Photographs

On sick leave - Draycot & Group - click on image to enlarge
The photograph to the right is the only one in the collection dating from Draycot’s period of convalescence in England. He is in the front row, furthest to the right. Although he is one of the soldiers wearing a party hat, he does not look as if he has reason to celebrate. Away from the front, he does not attempt to project an image of authority; in this photograph, the subject is not in charge of his destiny. His diaries bear witness to repeated requests to return to the front. All were denied. Draycot was broken both in body and spirit. Although he ensures that he is in the foreground, he is content to sit with the other soldiers. The photograph is not annotated, nor does Draycot draw attention to himself. He is anonymous and does not wish to be distinguished from the other soldiers.

The diaries reveal very little about Draycot’s time in England. The entries are short and refer primarily to repeated medical examinations. On being discharged from hospital, Draycot visited relatives. Only occasional references to battles and troop movements, gleaned from reading newspapers, are given. Draycot’s war is over; and his memoir will not be written for another twenty years.
Draycot’s Post-war Photographs
The two photographs below were taken during or just before World War Two. The captions, written in Draycot’s own handwriting, make his standpoint clear: two major wars (Boer and World War One) were enough for him. The caption under the first suggests that his memories of World War One were revived as he listened to the war news on the radio. At the age of fifty-nine, there was no danger that he would be called up. The photograph contrasts the productiveness of Draycot’s garden with the destruction of the battlefield. In his own garden, he does not have to take orders from anyone; he takes pleasure in being his own master.
Draycot in his garden 1942 - click on image to enlarge In the second photograph, Draycot is again in the foreground, looking alert. The caption ‘Keep out of it Draycot’ suggests that the old soldier was still drawn towards active service. Why is he wearing his uniform? What is he thinking about as he looks into the distance? His memoir makes it quite clear that, like many veterans, he regarded war as a tragic waste of human life and resources. Draycot’s figure and posture are those of a fit man who has made a good physical recovery from the privations of war. The diaries give another picture, however: there are repeated references to nervous problems, nightmares, post-war trauma and recurring bouts of illness related to gas poisoning.

The photographs depict a man as he wanted to be seen: the narrated ‘I’ is in charge of his situation and fate, a hero of myth and romance, who could transcend the atrocities of war. The narrated ‘I’ of the diaries, however, is a hero in bondage, threatened with death, at the beck and call of commanding officers and ‘lady luck’: this Draycot belongs to the ironic mode of fiction. In both media, the narrated ‘I’ is fictional: one medium tells the story as the narrating ‘I’ wanted it to be told, the other as it needed to be told.

A pensive ex-soldier - click image to enlarge The photographs of Draycot are taken from a distance, but the diaries are written in the middle of the action. The photographs are supported by text; the diary text stands alone. It is clear that Draycot valued both media: the photographs are painstakingly mounted in an album, while the diaries were edited and consulted as well as quoted from extensively while writing ‘Pawn 883’. Both the photographs and diaries are ‘one-off’ accounts in the sense that they have never been reproduced. The memoir, on the other hand, was typed and copied (there are four copies in the Draycot collection; others may have been given to friends). The sketches were also reproduced, both for use in the war and as souvenirs to be sold at the end of it.

The diaries and photographs are vulnerable: they will continue to tell their special story only for as long as their colour or pages survive. They were Draycot’s most long-term commitment to recording the war, and he returned to them over and over again. They continued to capture his imagination and stimulate his memory for many years. While the recording of events on a daily basis may have had a therapeutic effect at the time, reading and editing the diaries in later years rekindled unpleasant memories that continued to haunt him. The handwriting under the photographs is neat and orderly and shows no signs of deterioration due to old age. In contrast, many of the revisions in the diaries are made by an elderly man whose handwriting has become very uneven. It is significant that Draycot’s interest in his diaries was life-long: the narrative to which he returned in later life was that of the ironic hero and not the hero of myth and romance. The latter is the creation of art; the former, the product of experience.

Next: Final Remarks
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