Representation of the hero in World War One: the story of Walter MacKay Draycott, Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (P.P.C.L.I.)

Jane Mattisson

    Forskningsoutput: Övriga bidrag


    This website focuses on the representation of one man’s experiences in World War One. That man, Walter MacKay Draycott, served in the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry Regiment between 1914 and 1917. While his experiences as a private soldier at the front were by no means unique, his skills as a sketcher and topographer were extremely rare and thus much in demand.

    Draycott recorded his experiences during the War in four media: memoir, military sketch, diary and photograph. The two texts published here discuss all four media. The first text compares the memoir and the sketch; the second, the diary and the photograph. Both texts may be printed for easy reading. A short biography of Draycott’s life has also been provided.

    The memoir is the medium which best enables a scholar to understand the relationship between the four narratives: it addresses the production of the different representations, textual as well as pictorial, the circumstances under which they were created and also their importance to Draycott himself as well as to the general conduct of the War. The diaries were Draycott’s most long-term commitment to recording the war and form the basis of his memoir.

    In both texts published in the website I demonstrate that Draycott’s records are fiction as defined by Northrop Frye: all four media represent a hero who wavers between the ‘low-mimetic’ and ‘ironic’ modes proposed by Frye (Anatomy of Criticism). Paul Fussell, one of the great World War One scholars, argues that memoir is on the knife-edge between the low-mimetic and ironic modes (The Great War and Modern Memory). I extend Fussell’s argument to include not only written texts but also pictorial. Briefly, Frye argues that fiction may be classified by the hero’s power of action: if this is greater than ours, it belongs to the mode of myth or romance; if the hero’s power is similar to ours, it belongs to the low-mimetic mode of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novel; if the hero’s power is less than ours, it belongs to the ironic mode, which is characterised by bondage and suffering and relies heavily on demonic imagery. Draycott, the hero in bondage struggling for survival in a wasteland of death and destruction at the front, is represented differently in the four media discussed here. The memoir, diary and charts belong to the low-mimetic/ironic modes; but the photographs of (as opposed to those taken by) Draycott belong to the myth/romance mode as, unlike the other three media, they present a man in charge of his destiny, one who defies death and is pictured in surroundings which are clean, organised and under his control. Draycott is invariably in the foreground.

    Draycott was a true hero: he survived four gruelling years at the front, constantly risked his life in the line of duty, repeatedly missed death by a narrow margin, drew military sketches and charts that were vital to the war effort and saved many lives; and only when he was severely wounded did he accept, albeit reluctantly, that his contributions to World War One were over. In the post-war years, physical action gave way to literary creativity. With heroic bravery and energy, Draycott returned to his experiences at the front, edited his sketches and photographs and added commentary, reviewed his diaries, and compiled a 255-page memoir.

    Walter MacKay Draycott died on October 21st 1985. He left behind him an invaluable collection of World War One narratives which give rare insights into the life of a private soldier who was trained to observe and who had a passion for recording the minutest details.

    StatusPublicerad - 2007

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