Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Private Peaceful

Private Peaceful

Michael Morpurgo
For ages 14 and up
Scholastic, 2004   ISBN: 978-0439636483

Tommo Peaceful is waiting for dawn. He doesn’t want to think about where he is or what is going to happen when dawn actually arrives, so he tells himself to “remember,” to go back in time to the days when he was just a little boy living in the village with his brothers Charlie and Big Joe. He remembers the day when his father was killed by a falling tree. Tommo blames himself for his father’s death because his father pushed Tommo out of the path of the falling tree and was crushed by it. Tommo cannot help feeling that he, Tommo, should have been the one to die on that day instead of his father.

Tommo remembers the day Molly came into their lives and he describes how much light the girl brings into their lives. Later she is the first girl he falls in love with and it hurts him when he discovers that Molly and his much beloved brother Charlie are a couple. But, Tommo loves them both too much to be angry with them for long and he does his best to set his jealousy aside.

Then there are the memories of Big Joe, kind and gentle Big Joe who loves animals and who believes in heaven. Big Joe is the oldest bother in the family but because of a childhood illness which affected his brain, he is the baby of the family. When Big Joe runs away after the death of the family dog, the entire village goes looking for him and Charlie and Tommo fear that something dreadful has happened to him. When Tommo finally finds him in the church tower, the relief is enormous and everyone, even the much hated colonel, get together to celebrate.

Finally there are the memories of how Tommo came to be where he is now, in Belgium fighting the Germans. Charlie was forced to join up and Tommo refused to be left behind, even though he was underage. So the brothers pretended to be twins and together came to Belgium to fight “the Hun.” They soon learn that the war is much worse than anything they could possibly have imagined. Friends and comrades die horribly and for no apparent reason, and living conditions are appalling. What makes things worse is that their enemy, “Fritz,” does not appear to be a monster at all. The few Germans Tommo has had real contact with appear to be “just like us.”

And now Tommo waits for dawn, remembering, and trying to hold back time, knowing all the while that at six o’clock, his brother Charlie - his dearest friend - will be executed for cowardice.

In this incredibly moving and superbly written book Michael Morpurgo tells the story not just of Charlie and Tommo Peaceful. He also tells the story of some three hundred men who were executed during World War I. Accused of cowardice and desertion these soldiers were not given the opportunity to defend themselves properly in a trial. Many of them were suffering from acute cases of shell shock at the time of their so-called crimes. During their trials they were told that they were “worthless.” In his author’s note the author explains that he wants his readers to see that these young men were far from being worthless. Through Charlie’s story we can see that surely each of them had a great story to tell, and each of them had family back at home who loved and missed them. Like Charlie they were probably brave and funny. They were brothers, sons, and fathers. Like Charlie, they deserved to have a proper hearing in a proper court. And like Charlie they did not deserve to be shot.

This profound tribute to some of World War I’s forgotten heroes is the kind of book readers will remember long after they have read the last page. It is the kind of book which leaves its mark on the reader for years to come.