Review: The Distant Drum (Noakes)


The Distant Drum: A Memoir of a Guardsman in the Great War.

A masterpiece of a memoir: I was impressed enough to look up the soldier’s niece online, and wrote to thank her for making her uncle’s war story publicly available (she very graciously replied).

F. E. (“Fen”) Noakes did not originally write his memoir with the object of public consumption, but it’s fortunate that he was prevailed upon by others to prepare it for private printing, which preserved his work for future generations of readers and researchers. His account fully encompasses the British soldier’s Great War experience: from enlistment and training, into the front line and back to the rear areas, the Armistice, and finally demobilization.

He writes with clarity and sensitivity in a self-effacing style that engenders confidence in his truthfulness. It is evident that he trusts the reader’s imagination: he exercises discretion with the harrowing details that other writers have striven to pack into their writings. He shows that it’s not necessary to belabor readers with every hideous sight, sound and smell, to adequately illustrate the misery of the Great War battlefield experience.

The body of the book appears to reproduce the typeface and punctuation conventions of a much earlier printing. The care with which it was prepared is shown in the scarcity of typographical errors. A Foreword by his niece, an Introduction by an Imperial War Museum historian, and the author’s original Preface function as an overture to the work. The volume is a sturdily bound hardcover in a dust jacket of elegantly understated design. The only photographs are those of the author which appear on the cover.

Fen Noakes supplies a wealth of information for me to follow up in research for my novel. I’m pleased to add his memoir to my Great War library.

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