The First World War is one of the greatest tragedies of modern history. In Private Peaceful, Michael Morpurgo tells the story of two boys, Charlie and Tommo, who find themselves in the trenches of France – highlighting the meaningless suffering of war in a very poignant way.
Tommo, the younger of the two brothers, it the story’s narrator. He’s telling the story from France and looking back over his earlier memories to comfort himself. The tales of his early life are beautiful, he, Charlie, their mentally-disabled brother, Joe and their close friend Molly have all kinds of adventures in the small English village they grew up in. They’re all very poor and they face hardships living on the estate of a rich colonel. Their lives aren’t simple or easy, but there’s a certain beauty to it all – especially for the strong bonds that they all hold for one another. There’s also a partially formed love triangle between Tommo, Charlie and Molly, which was quite bittersweet. They were all brilliant characters.
Of course, the whole time you’re reading about those precious childhood memories, you have the knowledge in your mind that the pair of them will be shipped off to fight in the war before too long. As the narrator, Tommo alludes to something horrible happening right from the start. It gives a feeling of tension to everything – a feeling that you should cherish the good times, because you never know when they will come to a sudden end.
Once they finally ship out to war, things are about as bleak as you would imagine. The ending is particularly distressing – I’m not going to spoil anything, but I’ll just say that it left me feeling emotionally stunned. I think part of what makes everything feel so brutal is the fact that the characters are all so wholesome and likeable that you really don’t want them to have to go through these things.
Though this book was written for children, I feel that it’s just as appealing to adults. It’s a good way for kids to learn about the human reality of the First World War and it’s a good reminder, for adults, of an historic tragedy which must never be forgotten or repeated. I recommend it to everybody.