Private Peaceful

Private Peaceful Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Michael Morpurgo

Michael Andrew Bridge was born in 1943 in St Albans. His father was actor Tony Van Bridge, but Michael wouldn’t learn this until he was nineteen. His mother, Kippe Cammaerts, was also an actress, and the surname Morpurgo originates from her second husband, Jack Morpurgo, who was a literature professor. Michael went to school in London, and later attended the University of London, studying English and French. He then became a primary school teacher, but it was while teaching that he realized he wanted to be an author. He made up stories for the children, and says "I could see there was magic in it for them, and realized there was magic in it for me." He would go on to become a greatly successful and well-loved children’s author, best known for works such as War Horse, The Butterfly Lion and Private Peaceful. War Horse in particular has been wildly successful, having been adapted into an award-winning play and made into a Steven Spielberg blockbuster in 2011. Morpurgo held the role of Children’s Laureate from 2003-2005, and also set up a charity called “Farms for City Children” with his wife, Clare, which allows inner-city children to experience the countryside. He was made a Knight Bachelor in 2018 for his services to children’s literature and charity.
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Historical Context of Private Peaceful

While Private Peaceful encompasses many aspects of the First World War, it is more specifically about the British soldiers who were executed by firing squad at the hands of their own army. Morpurgo explains in the novel’s postscript that, throughout the war, over 290 soldiers were executed by firing squad, “some for desertion and cowardice, two simply for sleeping at their posts.” The youngest was only seventeen years old. Most of these men, as we can now appreciate, were suffering from PTSD and were completely traumatized by their experiences of war. Their sentencing was deeply unjust, as they often had no one to defend them in court against a completely biased jury. The British government still has not granted any posthumous pardons.

Other Books Related to Private Peaceful

Michael Morpurgo has written many other books about the experience of the First World War, with the most notable being War Horse, which narrates the story of the war through the eyes of a horse. He has also written stories about the Second World War, such as The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, and stories about life more generally in England, such as The Butterfly Lion. Morpurgo once claimed that his writing at large was influenced by Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose, and Ted Hughes’ Poetry in the Making. Ted Hughes also wrote children’s fiction, and Gallico’s The Snow Goose is similar to many of Morpurgo’s works in its depiction of heroism against a backdrop of war. One might also look to classic literature of the First World War for related content, such as the poetry of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Rupert Brooke, or Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.
Key Facts about Private Peaceful
  • Full Title: Private Peaceful
  • When Written: 2003
  • Where Written: Devon, England
  • When Published: 2003
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult, War, Bildungsroman
  • Setting: First in the village of Iddesleigh in Devon, and then in the battlefields of Belgium in the First World War
  • Climax: The execution of Charlie Peaceful
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Private Peaceful

Famous Fathers. Michael didn’t know about his birth father, Tony Van Bridge, until he watched the film Great Expectations with his mother. His father (an actor) was starring in it.

True Story? Much of the story of Private Peaceful is based on real conversations Michael Morpurgo had with war veterans from the village of Iddesleigh in Devon, where he lives.