Sunday, 1 September 2019

Max Plowman (1883 - 1941) – British poet and pacifist

Max Plowman featured in a commemorative exhibition held in 2016 about
some of the Poets on The Somme, 1916

Born Mark Plowman in Tottenham on 1st September 1883, Max’s father was Mark Plowman, who ran a brick making business and his mother was Anna Maria Plowman, nee Hunt.  Max began writing poetry at an early age.  He became a journalist after working for ten years in the family business, and his poems were published in various magazines, with his first collection coming out in 1913 under the title “First Poems”.

Max married Dorothy Lloyd Sulman in 1914.

When war broke out, Max volunteered to join the RAMC and was sent to the 4th Field Ambulance.  Commissioned into the Yorkshire Regiment’s 10th Battalion, he served on the Western Front on The Somme at Albert, where he was concussed by an exploding shell.  After treatment by Dr Rivers at Bowhill Auxiliary Hospital in Britain, Max refused to return to the war and was court martialled on 5th April 1918.  He was dismissed from the Army but escaped further punishment on the grounds that he was a Conscientious Objector.

After the war, Max ran a commune on a farm in Essex. His war-time memories were published in 1928, with the title “A Subaltern on The Somme”, under the pen-name ‘Mark VII’.

Max also helped to found the Peace Pledge Union, becoming the organisation’s first general secretary in 1937.  He died on 3rd June 1941.

Max Plowman’s WW2 poetry collections were:
“A lap full of seed (poems)” published by Blackwell, Oxford in 1917
“Shoots in the stubble (poems)”, published by Daniel in 1920. 

His poems were included in five WW1 poetry anthologies.

“When it’s over”

'Young soldier, what will you be
When it's all over?'
'I shall get out and across the sea,
Where land's cheap and a man can thrive.
I shall make money. Perhaps I'll wive
In a place where there's room for a family.
I'm a bit of a rover.'

'Young soldier, what will you be
At the last 'Dismiss'?'
'Bucked to get back to old Leicester Square,
Where there's good champagne and a glad eye winking,
And no more 'Verey Lights' damnably blinking
Their weary, dreary, white-eyed stare.
I'll be out of this.'

'Young soldier, what will you be
When they sign the peace?'
'Blowed if I know; perhaps I shall stick it.
The job's all right if you take it steady.
After all, somebody's got to be ready,
And tons of the blighters 'll get their ticket.
Wars don't cease.'

'Young soldier, what will you be At the day's end?'
'Tired's what I'll be. I shall lie on the beach
Of a shore where the rippling waves just sigh,
And listen and dream and sleep and lie
Forgetting what I've had to learn and teach
And attack and defend.'

'Young soldier, what will you be
When you're next a-bed?'
'God knows what; but it doesn't matter,
For whenever I think, I always remember
The Belgians massacred that September,
And England's pledge - and the rest seems chatter.
What if I am dead?'

'Young soldier, what will you be
When it's all done?'
'I shall come back and live alone
On an English farm in the Sussex Weald,
Where the wounds in my mind will be slowly sealed,
And the graves in my heart will be overgrown;
And I'll sit in the sun.'

'Young soldier, what will you be
At the 'Last Post'?'
'Cold, cold in the tender earth,
A cold body in foreign soil;
But a happy spirit fate can't spoil,
And an extra note in the blackbird's mirth
From a khaki ghost.'

Sources:  Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry in the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978)
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