Teenage Tommo remembers how when he was younger, he would turn coins in his hand because he thought that this would grant him a wish. He now wishes that he could still “believe” “in all those old tales.” Instead, he reminds himself that it is better not to wish, but to “remember” instead, because “remembrances are real.”
Tommo hints here that he has lost faith in anything which he can’t be certain is real, implying that he has lost his spiritual faith. Instead, he feels that he should now place his faith into memories, because he knows that at least some good will come from remembering.
The family buries Bertha on the same day that she is killed. It is not like the animal funerals of their childhood, because everyone is silent, horrified, and “too angry to grieve.” Mrs. Peaceful assures Big Joe that Bertha is up in heaven now.
Bertha’s funeral provides a striking contrast to the relatively sweet funerals the children used to throw for animals in their childhood. This funeral is representative of a new, bleaker reality, and a transition away from their childhood innocence.
That evening, Big Joe goes missing. Everyone is beside themselves with worry, and they desperately try to find him, but to no avail. The whole village eventually joins the search, but they don’t find Big Joe overnight, and by the next afternoon everyone is on the brink of giving up hope. Molly suddenly has a thought about where Big Joe “would most want to be,” which, she concludes, would be with Bertha. Molly explains that Big Joe told her once where “Heaven” was. He was pointing upwards, at the sky she thought, but now she realizes that he might have been pointing at the church tower itself. She now thinks that Big Joe believes that heaven is literally inside the church tower.
Bertha’s earlier disappearance is a dark foreshadowing of Big Joe’s later disappearance. It is only thanks to Molly’s perceptiveness and keen understanding of Big Joe that she manages to solve the mystery of his whereabouts. Only those close to Big Joe would know that he might be innocent and trustful enough to believe that heaven itself was actually located within the church tower, and that he would want to go there to be with his beloved Bertha after her death. From this point on, church towers become a symbol of the afterlife within the novel.
Everyone races to the church tower. Charlie falls over, so Tommo goes up first, and eventually reaches the top of the stairs, where he finds Big Joe curled up under the parapet. He is “deathly cold,” and doesn’t move when Tommo shakes him. Tommo thinks he has died, but suddenly Big Joe wakes up and smiles at him. Tommo calls down to Charlie, and the boys all cheer ecstatically. Then Big Joe starts singing “Oranges and Lemons,” and they all join in, “crying and singing at the same time.” The boys ring the church bells to let everyone know that Joe has been found.
Morpurgo builds up the suspense in this section of the narrative, leading the reader to believe that Big Joe has died. Big Joe appears dead in the church tower because he is so cold and still. It is not until he wakes up and smiles that it becomes clear that he is in fact alive. Because the reader only views events through the eyes of Tommo, they share in his terror that his brother might have come to a tragic end, and then in his relief when he is reunited with Big Joe.