An unusual farmer: Brigadier-General Dennis C. Draper, C.M.G., D.S.O. & bar (Part 2)

Jocelyn Vachon

larger_draper.jpgBy 1917, the reputation and actions of Lieutenant-Colonel Draper have crossed the Atlantic. When elections are announced in 1917, Draper is offered the Unionist candidature in Brome County. He accepts,yet stays at the front. He writes to electors: “I am informed that I have been nominated as candidate…and I consider it my duty to accept… but I came to France to fight the enemies of our country…and I can not bring myself to go home until the fate of war brings me home…’’ Notwithstanding his total absence, he finishes second, 1,488 votes to 1,926! It must be mentioned that soldiers in Europe could vote in any county they preferred: Draper may have received a few partisan votes…

Ironically, he loses to Andrew Ross McMaster (re-elected in 1921) who is incidentally partner in a small law firm with another well-known soldier: Major Talbot Papineau of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry Regiment.In the fall of 1917, Canadians participate in what becomes synonymous with the futility of War: the capture of the featureless ridge of Passchendaele in Belgium. Following the loss of 175,000 men,British General Douglas Haig finally calls in the Canucks. Conditions are the most appalling ever witnessed by any contemporary soldier.Constant shelling has destroyed the vital drainage system located mere meters above sea level. Just from the sight of the morass battlefield, many realize they stand little chance to come back alive…

What will happen to Draper, since he will inevitably be sent into the inferno? Canadian General Arthur Currie does not blindly throw his men into battle, but puts together a plan that will make the most of the futile situation. The Canadians intend to take the final 2,200 yards leading to the Ridge of Passchendaele in a three-step approach that starts with a slight gain on October 26th. It’s now the turn of another six Canadian battalions, including 580 men of the 5th CMR, to be part of the attack,while British and Australian troops will cover their flanks. On October 29th, Draper establishes his H.Q. 1,000 yards behind the jumping-off line in a half destroyed, concrete farmhouse code-named Kron Printz Farm.

For a change, the night is clear and dry; his troops move bit by bit to the jumping-off line. The task for the next morning is daunting: they must follow the Canadian rolling artillery barrage up a slow-rising crest and eliminate a series of German strong-points, all in this indescribable quagmire. Night shelling is heavy and casualties are already mounting.

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