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Frontispiece, first edition: 2003.
|Media type||Print Hardback & Paperback|
|Preceded by||Gentle Giant|
|Followed by||Sir Gawain and the Green Knight|
Private Peaceful is a novel for older children by Michael Morpurgo, first published in 2003. It is about a soldier called Thomas "Tommo" Peaceful, who is looking back on his life from the trenches of World War I in France. Structurally, each chapter of the book brings the reader closer to the present until the story turns to present tense. The story especially underlines the senselessness of war and ineptitude of the commanding officer.
It has been described as "an unflinching examination of the horrors of war and the injustice surrounding the execution of soldiers by firing squad, on the – often false – grounds of desertion or cowardice."
The book was adapted into a play of the same name by Simon Reade, first performed at the Bristol Old Vic in April 2004, and starred Alexander Campbell. Later the production enjoyed sell-out transfers to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and London’s West End, and then toured the United Kingdom.
A film adaptation was released in October 2012.
In 2005 and 2006, Michael Morpurgo presented a series of concerts called "Private Peaceful" which were very well accepted by the public. He presented these concerts at the Wembley Arena. This was a set of readings by Morpurgo and some songs and tunes by Coope, Boyes and Simpson.
In 1995 the trio had been commissioned to create a concert in Passchendaele church with Flemish musicians. This was released as "We're Here Because We're Here: Concert Party Passchendaele", a live album. Morpurgo had met them in September 2000 at a conference on "Children's Literature in Peace and War".
He was so impressed by the songs that the trio sang that he invited them to add music to "Some Desperate Glory". This was a set of readings of war poetry devised by Morpurgo and read by Jim Broadbent and others. Soon after they put together the material for "Private Peaceful".
The story is of a young teenager named Thomas "Tommo" Peaceful, who tells the story in account format from the past to the present day events of his experiences living in the village of Iddesleigh during World War I. His oldest brother, Big Joe, has learning difficulties and is always looked out for by his younger brothers. The earlier part of the story tells of his doings before the war, the tale of his love for Molly – a beautiful girl he met on his first day at school and grew to love besottedly – and Charlie Peaceful, Tommo's brother.
The trio had grown up together, their mischievous adventures included braving the beastly Grandma Wolf (also referred to as the Wolfwoman) to their mother's despair. Charlie, being older than Tommo, had always protected and looked out for his younger brother. Also, he and Molly become closer as they are both older than Tommo, while Tommo begins to become left out. Later on, it is revealed that Molly and Charlie were secretly seeing each other, and that Molly had become pregnant with Charlie's child.
Tommo became extremely heartbroken after the couple hurriedly married a short time later in the village church, before Tommo and Charlie were forced off to France to fight in World War I. All through this time, Tommo recorded his feelings in the novel. The rest of the story describes the brothers' experiences of the war: their Sergeant "Horrible" Hanley, the near misses during battle on the front line, and Charlie's continued protection of Tommo.
During a charge of the German lines, Charlie disobeys a direct order from Seargent Hanley and stays with Tommo while he is injured on No-man's-land. As a result, Charlie is accused of cowardice and given a court martial. The book's chapters count down to dawn when Charlie will be executed. At dawn, Charlie is marched before the firing squad, where he dies happily singing their favourite childhood song, "Oranges and Lemons". Just like the Charlie of the schoolyard, he refuses the blindfold.
Tommo ends the story in the present tense with Charlie's execution and the promise of looking after Charlie and Molly's new baby, Little Tommo.
Private Peaceful epitomizes the devastatingly unfair treatment soldiers were given and the unjust ending many brave soldiers had to face. It is also is a story about the friendship between the two brothers and the undying bond of trust between soldiers in the trenches.
A feature film version of Private Peaceful was released in October 2012. Directed by Pat O'Connor with a screenplay by Simon Reade, it stars George Mackay as Teenage Tommo and Samuel Bottomley as young Tommo. The music score was to be written by Mark Knopfler in his second film score in a decade, but Rachel Portman has been hired to do a new score.