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The Distant Drum (Hardback)

A Memoir of a Guardsman in the Great War

WWI All Frontline Books Frontline: WWI 1917 1918

By F.E Noakes, Foreword by Carole Noakes, Introduction by Peter Simkins
Frontline Books
Pages: 256
ISBN: 9781848325630
Published: 12th July 2010
Last Released: 23rd February 2011

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“We waited in silence, each man occupied with his own secret thoughts and no doubt wrestling with his own secret fears. I think that half-hour was probably the worst I have ever spent. Slowly and inexorably the minutes passed, second by second, and the time approached which might be the end of everything for me. All my efforts to screw up my courage, all my fatalistic self-assurances that what is to be, will be, became more and more useless, and hope seemed to ooze away with every second...” Frederick Noakes, 1917.

Guardsman Frederick Noakes fought on the Western Front for the last 18 months of the Great War. In 1934, he wanted to write up his 'adventures' while his memory was still 'undimmed', using the letters he wrote home during 1917–1919 as the basis for the memoir. His eloquent text, with his views on politics, morale and the trenches, moved friends to persuade Noakes to publish the work privately in 1952.

Fen Noakes did not consider himself a hero, but the dignity with which he conducted himself under the most dreadful conditions suggest otherwise. His articulate and effective prose gives a voice to the average soldier in the trenches. Professor Peter Simkins provides an introduction to this new edition, which also includes a foreword by Carole Noakes, niece of the author.

Strongly recommended account of the ordinary man at war...if not least because of the more apparent honesty and unstudied skill of its author's writing and recall

The Western Front Association Stand To! Magazine

A lot can be learnt about the first world war from textbooks and historian's accounts however the most compelling and real information is found from the words of those who experienced it. The Distant Drum is a book of the very sort, written by Frederick Noakes, a British Soldier who spent the war in the trenches from 1917-1919. With a sensitive yet informative touch, Noakes describes his experiences through gripping prose describing everything from the political such as concerns over the affairs of the state to the horrific such as 'going over the top'. It is through his letter home to his loved ones that the reader can learn about these events and understand the day to day lives of a trench dwelling soldier. With a foreword by his daughter Corole Noakes and an introduction by the respected Peter Simkins, the book resonates beyond any text book and into the hearts of the reader.

John (Customer Review)

A Distant Drum by F E Noakes truly a work which can be described in the overused phrase"a hidden gem".
Writing up his experiences of the last year of the war in the 1930's purely from memory and letters,it is a moving,honest first-hand account,with details of great worth to historians.A useful source and a fine read.

Softnam Newsletter Spring 2011e

The Distant Drum is the story of guardsman Frederick Noakes who fought in the last eighteen months of the Great War on the Western Front. Frederick wanted to
write up his adventures while his memory was still intact so he used letters he sent home between 1917 and 1919 these formed the basis of his memoirs. His views on politics, morale and the fighting moved friends to persuade Noakes to publish his work privately in 1952. His story begins full of patriotism and determination to join the fight.
He crossed into France in November 1917 thinking that this was 'the most righteous war' but that soon changed in a matter of weeks, his ignorance and bravado wilted as the cold harsh reality of the war began to set in. In a matter of months he sees the barbarity from both sides as the same and wonders when the slaughter will end, he also suggests that Britain maybe be as cold and militaristic as the enemy. His letters sent home told of a man suffering from fatigue and fatalism and a hint of defeatism. Noakes did not think of himself as a hero but the memoirs suggest otherwise when reading about the conditions he suffered but faced it head on with dignity. This is a very articulate portrait of the average solider in the trenches. This book contains some honest and open views on the war, the new edition also comes with an introduction from professor Peter Simkins and a foreword by Carole Noakes, the niece of Noakes. A very interesting insight in to the war which enthusiasts of the war and history alike will appreciate.

Susan (Customer Review)

This autobiography is unusual in two respects. First of all it is one of only a handful of such books written by the conscript soldiers. Second, it is one of a comparatively rare number of autobiographies that focus on the last part of the war.

Despite the stalemate of war, Noakes retained his early enthusiasm, and one of the interesting feature of this book is the way in which his attitude to the war altered over time - his early experiences at the front soon turned enthusiasm into cynicism.

This is a valuable addition to the sizeable body of Great War memoirs, filling something of a gap.

www.historyofwar.org

The Distant Drum: A Memoir of a Guardsman in the Great War provides a fascinating unassuming account of the last 18 months of the Great War – an area even Peter Simkins, the senior historian at the Imperial War Museum, admits is lacking in detailed everyday accounts. Comprised entirely of the first hand account of F.E Noakes (lovingly referred to as Fen by his niece Carole Noakes), The Distant Drum recalls the everyday life, feelings and thoughts of a standard soldier through recruitment, training, the Trenches, victory and finally release back into society.
Noakes’ account is warm, humbling and understated – there is no added drama, with his simple descriptions and honest opinions producing an astonishingly interesting account of the closing stages of World War I - there is no arrogance in his account, as he admits that he feels he had been ‘lucky’ in his travels and stationing. However, there is no denying that The Distant Drum is perhaps the most accurate and unbiased retellings of a pivotal moment in military history.

Kate (Customer Review)

Our fascination with the Romans has been re-lightened in recent years with big blockbuster films such as Gladiator and TV shows such as Rome, more and more people are searching for more information on this fascinating ancient community. One of the latest crazies is to discover the conquering side of the Romans, and no other book delves deeper into the Roman conquests than Nic Fields' North Africa. A lot of books cover the Roman conquest of Britain and other European countries but few books go into detail about the Romans conquest into North Africa. Dr Nic Fields Roman Conquests: North Africa is the next exciting book into the world of the Romans and describes their bloody trail through North Africa, including the defeat of the legendary Hannibal at Zama. Although, I am not really a fan of ancient history, once I began reading this book I really couldn't put it down. Fields uses his in-depth knowledge to piece together the Romans trail through this beautiful county, but unlike a lot other Roman conquests books this book is fast paced and exciting without losing any of the integrate details of Roman history. I absolutely loved this book and it is a must read for anybody who enjoys the gory detail of the Roman TV shows and films.

Paul (Customer Review)

Noakes served with the Grenadier Guards during the final 18 months of the conflict, participating in the piercing of the Hindenburg Line at the Canal du Nord in September 1918. This memoir is based on his letters home. Noakes writes eloquently and without embellishment of his own experiences as front-line soldier, the terror of going over the top, morale among his fellow soldiers and of their wider concerns in the midst of war. His memoir gives us a glimpse into a soldier's life at the front, in camps, hospitals and billets, his recreation and entertainments as well as relations with civilians.

The Western Front Association

A very moving and highly authentic account of the final year of the First World War.

History Times.com

In these days of anti-war protests and some peoples' questions over the legitimacy of our nation's involvement in conflicts overseas, it is difficult for us to appreciate the genuine heartfelt patriotism of the British people during the First World War. True there were some like Siegfried Sasson who initially fought with great courage and conviction for the Allied cause only to reject
everything to do with the war, but for most people there was a real willingness to fight for king and country. This comes through very clearly in F.E. Noakes' memoirs.
As late as 1917, when Noakes was called up, the enthusiasm of the early years had largely dissipated as the reality of warfare on the Western Front had been revealed to the general public. Yet Noakes begins his memoir by apologising for not having joined up earlier! He had been rejected a number of times by the recruiting office when he had applied for service because he suffered from acute asthma but eventually he was called up and in his own words, he was "to have the privilege of playing a part in the war to end war and of helping to make the world safe for democracy". Noakes' memoir was compiled from the letters he sent home from the front. These he later typed up, eventually becoming the basis for his memoir which was privately printed in 1952. He was a Guardsman in No.2 Company, 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards which famously won two Victoria Crosses on 27 September 1918, in an attack upon the Canal du Nord. The artillery barrage preceding this attack impressed the young Noakes: "Shells in hundreds, in thousands, of every size and calibre, shrieking down close over our heads and burst in front of the trench, at first close to the parapet, then gradually creeping towards the German lines, a flail of death-dealing eruptions which must surely sweep everything living from its path. Mere words can convey no idea of the culminating barrage, surely the greatest and most intense in the history of war. Devilish force unchained, the power of Hell let loose, trampling the earth beneath fire-spurting feet, the mighty crash and clangour often thousand guns. Great gouts and fountains of flame, scarlet and green and gold -thousands of flashes stabbing the night incessantly - an indescribable hell of noise that numbed the senses and stupefied the brain - that was the barrage." Noakes' descriptions are certainly vivid and, as his memoir was put together many years after the events, he was able to flesh out the bones of his letters with the more considered reflections of an older man. Despite twice being wounded by shell fire caused by badly-ranged British artillery fire and having experienced the horrors of trench warfare and the terror of having to go "over the top", he still retained that faith "in the justice of our cause and the righteousness of our aims". Even when news reached him of the Armistice (he was still convalescing from his second shell wound at the time) he wrote to his father with these words: "A lasting peace it must be, but it must be an absolutely clean peace. Otherwise the war has been in vain." As we know the peace failed to achieve its aims and another generation had to complete the job. In many respects the First World War was indeed fought in vain. Even a simple Guardsman could see that. This is a very moving and highly authentic account of the final year of the First World War.

Britain at War - November 2010

Originally privately published in 1952, "The Distant Drum" is a superb memoir. Many will enjoy "Fen Noakes" narrative of his time in the trenches and in the open warfare of late 1918, but I found it absorbing for a quite different reason: his coverage if his time in enlistment and training, and in hospitals and convalescence, which is the most detailed and insightful I have read.

Overall, a really good read and well worth buying.

1914-1918.net

A young soldier's moving letters to his mother revealing the hell of the World War I trenches are being made public after 92 years.
Private Freddie Noakes wrote home every day - fearing each note would be his last. Now they have been brought together in a book spelling out the nightmare of the Western Front in France.

Asthma sufferer Freddie was 21 before he was allowed to join up in 1917. In September the following year he wrote of the chilling moments before an attack on the German lines at Cambrai. He said: "The order was passed along in a whisper to fix bayonets.
"Several men in the platoon were hit during those first few seconds and the Sergeant Major was killed outright.
"Shells were bursting all around us. It seemed impossible that anyone could come alive through that cyclone of destruction.
"I saw one of our corporals struck in the thigh by a splinter and stagger a few paces with the blood spouting like a fountain. He died in less than a minute."

Freddie considered himself lucky to be hit below the knee by shrapnel. The would kept him out of the trenches for a few weeks.
Earlier that year he was wounded in the arm when he and his comrades were accidentally shelled by their own side, killing 30 men. He wrote "Huge shells screamed down on all sides. Hardly any of use expected to escape with our lives. We crouched on the floor of the trench expecting every minute to be our last.
"I know this I was convinced that this was the end."
But an officer ordered the survivors to run for it - and Freddie escaped. After the war he returned home to Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and ran the family drapery business. Unmarried Freddie died in 1953. Now his diary of letters is published in a book titled The Distant Drum. His niece Carole Oakes said: "He was a great letter writer and his mother never threw them out."

The Sun, Nov 25th 2010

About F.E Noakes

Frederick Elias Noakes was born in January 1896 in Kent. He was rejected for military service several times between 1914 and 1917 on medical grounds. A determined man, he sought to improve his fitness and finally succeeded, and was called up in June 1917. He was wounded twice, but recuperated to fight in the final push of the war.



About Peter Simkins

Peter Simkins worked at the Imperial War Museum for over 35 years and was its Senior Historian from 1976 until his retirement in 1999. Awarded the MBE that year for his services to the Museum, he is currently Honorary Professor in Modern History at the University of Birmingham, a Vice-President of the Western Front Association and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

He is the author of numerous publications on the Great War, including the book Kitchener's Army (1988), which was awarded the Templar Medal by the Society for Army Historical Research.

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