Mark VII – officer and “conchie”

As many of you who listen to the podcast will know I have a love of collecting personal memoirs of men who served in the Great War. Naturally, they vary in quality, and if I am honest, probably in historical accuracy as well!

There are many “classics” of personal narrative, such as “Goodbye to all that”, “The War the Infantry Knew”, and “Old Soldiers Never Die” to name but a few. But for me, one of the best lesser-known narratives was written in 1927 by a man called Max Plowman under the pseudonym “Mark VII”.

Called “Subaltern on the Somme” it documents several months that Plowman spent on the Somme battlefields as an officer in the Yorkshire Regiment. I am very fortunate to have a tatty but original signed 1st edition in my collection of books.

Having been severely concussed by the explosion of a German shell, Plowman was sent to a branch of the famous Craiglockhart Hospital near Edinburgh. There is no evidence that he encountered either Seigfried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen during his time at the hospital, but he was treated by the famous Dr. W H R Rivers. While convalescing, Plowman wrote a scathing philosophical attack on War in a pamphlet called “The Right to life”. In it, he argued that society’s focus on wealth and material gain had blighted our Christian outlook on charity and peace, which made war inevitable.

In January he wrote the letter at the top of this post to the adjutant of his regiment resigning his commission. This was an act of defiance that could have led to either a firing squad or a prison sentence, but Plowman stuck to the courage of his convictions. Unlike so many of contemporary objectors, Plowman was able to successfully convince the military tribunal that he should be considered a legitimate Conscientious Objector on the grounds of religious belief (the one thing the Government recognised as a legitimate reason for objection), and was discharged from the military without punishment. A few months later a letter arrived at Plowman’s door ordering him to join up as a conscript. He once again managed to convince the Appeal Tribunal of his objections. He avoided military service and after the war became a leading member of various socialist pacifist movements.

Max Plowman died on the 3rd of June 1941 and is buried in Essex.

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