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the Somme - a subaltern's personal view
on 6 January 2014
Max Plowman gives an erudite and sensitive appreciation of his time as a junior officer in the Great War.
Plowman himself is capable and brave, well-respected by his men and fellow officers. He is acutely aware of how character determines a man's response to the demands of war in the front line, in both officers and men. Character portrayal is a strength of the book.
Top Brass is seen as falling short too often: "...the colonel himself ...never managed (though to give him his due he tried very hard) to reach the trenches". And " At Beauquesne we passed some large country houses that are said to be in use as army headquarters. One could not help admiring the command's taste". Also "For the higher command the war is a great adventure and into it they can and do put tremendous zeal and endless thought. At the same time they have all the excitement of a bigger game than any other"
He is also concerned about the mechanisation of war. "We have endowed machinery with the power once confined to a man's right arm, and now the machine continues to function long after our natural instincts have spent themselves. That is what makes this war so ghastly. It is machine-made."
Plowman became increasingly disillusioned with the conflict. If only the British public knew what was going on, he thought: "...in the words of our battle-hymn, 'They'd never believe it'"
Following recuperation in England from a bomb blast he wrote to his battalion adjutant asking to be relieved of his commission on the grounds of religious conscientious objection to all war. What is not in the book is that he was arrested and tried by court martial for refusing to return to his unit. He was dismissed from the army without punishment.