With the news that the British government plans to pardon 306 soldiers executed for desertion or cowardice in World War I, it is a good time to read Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. In this novel, which is often in young adult collections, fifteen year old Thomas Peaceful leaves a Scottish farm on which he has grown up to join his older brother Charlie in the trenches in Belgium. They are told the war will not last long.
Private Peaceful could be divided into two books. The first half tells about the poverty of tenant farmers in Scotland and their clashes with the landed gentry, while the second describes the experiences of young soldiers in the mud and the snow of the battlefield. The Peaceful brothers see the slaughter of "going up over the top" and the frightening yellow clouds of creeping mustard gas. Told as a first person account, the story is vivid and honest. There is no glory.
Morpurgo appends to his book information on the injustice of the executions of World War I soldiers, many who were suffering shell shock. Further information can be found at the website for the organization Shot at Dawn.
I listened to the book on compact discs, enjoying the performance of Jeff Woodman.
Morpurgo, Michael. Private Peaceful. New York: Scholastic Press, 2004. ISBN 0439636485
5 compact discs. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2005. ISBN 1419356143