A central theme of Private Peaceful is the British army's attitudes towards discipline and justice during the First World War. The story culminates in the execution of Private Peaceful at dawn, by firing squad; the soldier’s crime was to stay with his injured brother and to question his sergeant’s order to go out from the trench whilst the Germans were still firing at them.
During this period, the British army killed over 300 of its own soldiers in this way for a range of reasons including desertion, alleged cowardice and in two cases for falling asleep whilst on guard. Despite a campaign by the families of those killed, it was not until 2006 that the British government granted posthumous pardons to those executed.
- Watch Michael Morpurgo talk here about how he hopes Private Peaceful can contribute to young people’s general knowledge and understanding of this historical period and in particular what happened to soldiers like Private Peaceful.
- After viewing, use the links opposite to start a historical enquiry about real soldiers who were condemned to death by their own military superiors during this period. As you begin your research, try to find out the following information:
- What were the reasons given by the British army for shooting their own soldiers?
- What evidence can you find about the people who were shot?
- Why did it take so long for the British government to pardon those killed years after their death?