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Frontispiece, first edition: 2003.
|Media type||Print Hardback & Paperback|
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 Belgium. 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 of this novel was created in 2012 and was directed by Pat O'Connor.
In 2003. 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 boy 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.
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 and skinny-dipping. The latter left a large impression on Tommo. 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 Belgium 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 Sergeant 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".
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, a story about the friendship between the two brothers and the undying bond of trust between soldiers in the trenches. In November 2006, the 290 soldiers who, like Charlie, were executed for cowardice, desertion or for sleeping at their posts, were given recognition for the unfairness shown towards them.
A feature film version of Private Peaceful was released in October 2012. Ireland 12 October 2012, UK 12 October 2012 and New Zealand 18 April 2013.  Directed by Pat O'Connor with a screenplay by Simon Reade, it stars George Mackay as Teenage Tommo, Samuel Bottomley as young Tommo, Richard Griffins as The Colonel, Alexandra Roach as Molly Munks, Jack O'Connell as Charlie Peaceful, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin as Young Charlie, Frances de la Tour as Grandma Wolf, John Lynch as Sergeant Hanley, Maxine Peake as Hazel Peaceful, Izzy Meikle-Small as Young Molly, Paul Ready as Captain Wilkins, Anthony Flanagan as Recruiting Sergeant, Eline Powell as Anna, David Yelland as General Haig, James Laurenson as Major Fitzpatrick and Paul Chequer as Corporal. 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.