Thrilling Recital of
Life as an Artillerist
Given By Capt. Draper
Captain Wycliffe Draper, the first man from this section to take a hand in the great world war told a very
graphic story of the conflict to the members of the Men's club of the Draper Memorial church at Hopedale last
Without referring once to a note or memoranda whatever, Capt. Draper spoke for an hour and 15 minutes,
depicting the struggles of the contending forces, describing the efforts of the Allies and the Teutons to gain
the mastery, dwelling particularly upon the activities of the artillery corps with which he was identified and
fairly fascinating his auditors by his discourse, a tale that could only be told by one who had lived through the
awful days of the early period of the war and who had been on the firing line both in France and at Saloniki.
From August 1914 to July of this year Capt. Draper was in the British army, first as a non-commissioned
officer, later as a second lieutenant and still later as a first lieutenant in the artillery branch. He went to
England within a month of the opening of the war, enlisted and put in a month at a gunnery school, training
intensively for service across the Channel and landing at the front in February 1915, with the rank of second
lieutenant. From that time, almost continuously he was on active duty until July of this year when he was
seriously wounded and invalided home. He still carries the shrapnel bullet in his shoulder that nearly cost
his life and finally sent him into the United States service in which he has now been commissioned as a
captain of artillery.
He was in uniform last evening, a stalwart figure, a handsome soldier upon whom the fighting and
sufferings he has undergone sit lightly and whose native modesty was apparent all through his talk, though
his keen interest in the events he was describing lent an eloquence that was reflected in the faces of his
auditors and won him warm applause when he concluded.
Capt. Draper described very fully the various shells used by the modern artillery, the high explosive,
shrapnel, and the rest giving an idea of the sound made by each in flight and the kind of wounds inflicted.
He described, too, the manner of concealing artillery positions by camouflage, digging them into side hills,
covering with branches of trees, etc., and by simulating the surrounding territory.
The explanation of the manner of getting the range for the big guns, since the gunner very rarely sees what
he is shooting at, was most interesting. Somebody, of course, must get the distance from gun to target, and
so an officer goes forward, accompanied by a telephonist, who unreels wire as he proceeds. Usually there
is an observation station of some sort ahead, but if not these "eyes of the battery" have to arrange to hide
themselves in some way, so that they can see without being seen, and having spotted the enemy, they
telephone back to the guns, giving as accurately as possible the distance and direction for the guns to send
forth their hail of death. It is a dangerous task that the "eyes of the battery" have to undertake, both getting to
their station and while there endeavoring to observe the enemy without being picked off by snipers. On this
advance guard the artillery depends entirely, for unless the telephone is busy the battery is idle, and
therefore the measure of success of the entire branch depends upon the efficiency and bravery of these men
who operated out in "no man's land," away from praise of blame for gallant acts done or missed. Another
class of artillerymen whose task is most hazardous are the wire repairers, who go forward fixing broken
wires laid along the ground, in trenches, etc., exposed to the fire and often dropped by enemy snipers.
Capt. Draper told of various methods used in getting the range of the big funs, all highly technical. He laid
particular stress upon the necessity of perfect cooperation between the observers ferreting out the enemy,
the men at the guns and those in charge of the transportation of guns and supplies, in order that the
efficiency of the artillery be kept at the highest point.
He described the various kinds of barrage fire, including a bracket barrage, that covers a particular section
of enemy trench, under the protection of which a raiding party goes out to capture prisoners; an S.O.S.
barrage, which is designed to stop an enemy attack on advanced trenches, and a general barrage, by which
the British and French armies could, at the present time, place a wall of fire from the Belgian coast almost to
the south of France, a steady stream of exploding steel, through which the enemy could not hope to
penetrate, with shells bursting at the rate of from one to four each minute. This is the state of perfection into
which the Allies have now brought their big guns.
Capt. Draper spoke of the fighting in Flanders, the flat, muddy country where the opposing forces have
battled for so long. He was at Neuve Chappelle, where the dead men were strewn about at intervals of five
yards, and where, there having been no opportunity to bury them, the dead lay about, some thinly covered
with dirt, the air filled with stench, and the lot of the soldiers far from pleasant. Capt. Draper, desiring to sit
down, scraped off some dirt from a mound, uncovered a sacred medal of the kind carried by a Catholic
soldier, whose dead body was half buried there. He sat down at another point.
Some of the bodies of the dead would often be badly mangled, but those killed by bullets usually lay on the
ground, ashen gay with the haunting pallor of death, he said.
Capt. Draper was in the Somme campaign the next year, and spent eight months at Saloniki, where he
was when the Rumanian campaign opened, being idle for some time, only to later follow this by activity that
kept the men and horses traveling up and down the line for up to 18 hours a day, until, indeed, the men slept
in the saddles as they moved on and on. At Saloniki he suffered an attack of fever and jaundice, but
recovered, and returning to France, was sent "up the line" with another outfit, which had the distinction of
being sent to wherever a big "push," or drive, was to be made. Capt. Draper was with this outfit until
wounded at Messines. He said nothing about his own wound, other than that he was "downed."
Capt. Draper told his hearers that in a big advance, where a barrage is being laid to cover an infantry attack,
the safety of the army, of course, depends on keeping up the barrage, the infantrymen being obscured by the
smoke cover and the curtain of fire placed in front of them. At such a time the artillerists must stand to their
guns, come what may. Working like Trojans, they must keep the guns speaking unceasingly, even if they
have to sacrifice themselves to do so. Before such an engagement the entire plan of firing is given out, and
is well understood by officers and men at the guns, who, once the signal is give, follow their instructions
explicitly. No spoken orders can be heard in such a din, and only by signal with the arms can the officers
direct the changes in the range as this is increased to allow the infantry to go farther forward, all of which is
Before concluding, Capt. Draper emphasized the prime necessity of absolute discipline in the army, as a
requisite of victory, the sort of discipline that keeps the men at the funs, even though it means almost sure
death to remain. This must be done at times, as in the barrage fire, when the protection of the men is entirely
involved in the fire that is going over their heads.
Speaking of American participation in the war, Capt. Draper referred to a headline which he saw in a paper
which characterized the American troops as the "scrappiest bunch in Europe." He said this is not the attitude
for the armies of this nation to take. :We should go in and 'see' them," he said, "'raise' them one, if possible,
but keep quiet about it until we have done something." Milford Daily News, December 5, 1917.
Wickliffe Preston Draper was the son of George Albert and Jessie Preston Draper. He was the nephew of
General William F. and Susan Preston Draper and also of Governor Eben and Nannie Draper. The spelling
of his name is given as "Wycliffe" in some sources and "Wickliffe" in others. He rose to the rank of colonel
and was addressed by that title for the rest of his life. His life was the subject of the 2002 book, The Funding
of Scientific Racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund. He was probably the donor of the money that
built the George Albert Draper Gymnasium.
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