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A Distant Drum
by Jocelyn Pereira

There can be very few regiments whose service in the Second World War was as comprehensively chronicled as the Coldstream Guards.  Its official history was written by John Sparrow and the eminent historian, Michael Howard (who had won an MC in Italy), and the wartime histories of all five of its service battalions were recorded in comprehensive and sympathetic detail by officers who had been participants in their respective campaigns in North-West Europe, North Africa, and Italy. 

Robert Boscawen’s Armoured Guardsmen was re-published in 2010 and recalled the fierce fighting that the 1st Battalion experienced in its breakout from Normandy and advance into Germany.  Last re-published in 1972, David Quilter’s No Dishonourable Name described the battles fought by the 2nd and 3rd Battalions in North Africa and Italy; it cries out to be brought out in a new edition.

We now have much to thank James Kerr for because he has gone to great lengths to provide us with a 75th anniversary edition of Captain Jocelyn Pereira’s remarkable A Distant Drum: The Story of the 5th Bn Coldstream Guards 1944-45 which covers the period from its landing at Arromanches in late June through until it reached the banks of the Elbe between Cuxhaven and Hamburg as the war came to an end.  The new edition is enriched by numerous previously unpublished photographs taken by George Mackean, a brother officer of Pereira’s.

The author was the battalion’s intelligence officer throughout this campaign and was thus well placed to maintain an overview of the wider situation and of all parts of the battalion, and his book manages to bring to life the joys and tribulations that were part and parcel of being involved in a hard fought and ultimately victorious advance in concert with other battalions from the Household Division, not least the Coldstream’s 1st (Armoured) Battalion. 

While we may today be tempted with the benefit of hindsight to see the last year of the war as a sort of triumphant procession, Pereira reminds us that the 5th Battalion’s advance was fiercely contested and casualties were high: a platoon commander would on average last just two months before being seriously injured or killed, a company commander slightly less than three months and a Guardsman had only an even-chance of survival.

A Distant Drum also provides the reader with a first-hand description by Pereira of the extraordinary single-handed capture of the mined bridge over the Ems at Altenlingen by Captain Ian Liddell for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

I cannot recommend this book too highly, but the final words must go to General Sir Charles Loyd, who wrote the Foreword to the first edition in 1949: ‘It is not easy to capture the interest of the ordinary person in the story of a battalion on active service.  In this book Jocelyn Pereira succeeds.  The mind of the reader is carried deep into the atmosphere of war.  The mental stress caused by its seeming endlessness, the gallantry, the hardships, and the uncertainties are all there to be absorbed.  Above all such trials, the Coldstream spirit is seen to emerge triumphant’.

Peter Williams

Unicorn Publishing Group www.unicornpublishing.com

This revised 75th anniversary edition of A Distant Drum is available through Regimental Headquarters Coldstream Guards. Price £16.00 including postage. Email enquiries: coldstreamguardspri@hotmail.com




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