Tommo remembers how he was once told in Sunday school that a church tower is “a promise of Heaven,” because it reaches up towards the sky. When he came to France to fight in the war, however, the church towers he encountered were mostly destroyed. One of them hung down “like a broken promise.”
After Big Joe is found, everyone in the village (or so it seems) flock to the pub to celebrate. Everyone seems to suddenly be friends with one another, brought together through their shared relief and joy. Even the Colonel and the “Wolfwoman” (Grandma Wolf) join in, and later give the Peacefuls a lift home in the Colonel’s Rolls Royce. Everyone is shocked by this act of rare kindness.
It is remarkable that everyone in the village comes together so harmoniously when they find Big Joe. Big Joe and the Peaceful family are obviously well-loved within the village, and everyone is therefore thrilled when he is found. Even the Colonel and Grandma Wolf seem miraculously mellowed by the celebrations.
On an evening a few weeks later, Tommo and Charlie come home from work to find Molly crying in their house, being comforted by the boys’ mother. The boys are surprised and confused. Their mother explains that Molly has “come to stay.” Her parents have thrown her out of her house, because she is pregnant. Mrs. Peaceful has told Molly that she’s family now, and that she can stay however long she likes. Charlie doesn’t say anything for a while as he takes in the news, but then he promises Molly wholeheartedly that he will stand by her and the baby.
At this point it becomes clear just how heartless and cruel Molly’s parents truly are. They are willing to kick their own daughter out of their house and reject her completely due to her accidental pregnancy. Nevertheless, while Molly’s family demonstrate their cruelty, the Peaceful family demonstrate their kindness by welcoming and supporting Molly with open arms. Charlie is obviously shocked at first, but he overcomes his fear to support Molly.
Charlie and Molly are married shortly afterwards in the village church, although only the close family and the vicar show up. News of Molly’s pregnancy has spread through the village, and there is no celebration after their wedding, just a “cup of tea and some fruit cake” at home.
The village is deeply disapproving of Molly’s pregnancy, because she has conceived so young and out of wedlock. This story is set in the early twentieth century, when such traditional views were the norm.
Tommo finds that he avoids spending time with both Charlie and Molly after the wedding, as he no longer knows what to say to them. He wants to hate them, but finds he can’t. He feels instead that he no longer has a place in his own home, and would be “better off away, and away from them in particular.”
Tommo seems to feel more sad than angry at Molly and Charlie. He is sad because he feels abandoned by his childhood companions, and because he also loves Molly but now will never get the chance to be with her.
One day, Tommo is in a nearby village when he comes “face to face with the war for the first time.” Up until then, Tommo and his home have remained largely untouched by the war. On this particular day, however, the army comes into a nearby village, hoping to recruit soldiers for the war. Tommo is entranced by the display: by the soldiers in “scarlet uniforms” and their grand marching band. He stops to watch, and the sergeant major points to all the young men, Tommo included, and encourages them to enlist.
The army display in the village is the first real and inescapable sign of war in Tommo’s life. The army is deliberately portrayed here as being impressive and grand, with the soldiers in their “scarlet uniforms” and the big band playing. It seems very enticing to Tommo as a result of this, which is why he stops to watch. Morpurgo will gradually overturn this grand image of the army as the novel progresses.
When the display is over, Jimmy Parsons, the bully from Tommo’s school days, goes up to enlist. Others follow him. Suddenly a toothless old woman standing behind Tommo jabs him and tells him to enlist, saying “Y’aint a coward, are you?” Tommo quietly leaves, hoping no one will notice, but the old woman spots him and shouts “Chicken!” after him.
As Tommo runs away he reconsiders what he’s just seen. He is filled with shame at himself, and thinks how impressed everyone would be if he did enlist to fight. By the time he arrives home, he has decided that he will enlist in the army. But as he sits down for dinner, and mentions the fact that he saw men enlisting that day, his family immediately dismiss his ambitions before he’s even had a chance to voice them. Charlie offhandedly criticizes the enlisting soldiers, pointing out that he’s “never even met” a German, so he feels no desire to kill a German. Mrs. Peaceful tells Tommo that he’s too young to fight anyway. Tommo is a little disappointed, but secretly quite relieved that he won’t have to go to war.
The old woman’s words clearly resonate in Tommo’s mind and make him feel guilty about not enlisting. Calling Tommo a “chicken” makes him see himself as a coward, and he now feels the need to prove otherwise by enlisting into the army. It is clear that he doesn’t really want to enlist, because he actually feels quite relieved when he realizes that his family wouldn’t expect him to fight anyway. He would only have been signing up for the sake of proving the old woman wrong, which perhaps doesn’t seem like the best reason to risk one’s life.
A few weeks later, the Colonel shows up at the Peaceful cottage again. The boys don’t know what the Colonel has said until Molly tells them that he has decided that every able man on his estate should enlist for war. More specifically, he has decided that Charlie must enlist, otherwise he will evict the Peacefuls from their cottage, and fire Molly and Mrs. Peaceful from their jobs. Charlie can’t believe the Colonel would do such a thing, but Molly reminds him that he “can,” and he will. As she tells Charlie, “When the Colonel gets it into his head to do something, and he’s in the mood to do it, he will.”
The Colonel is a prominent example in this story of a cruel person who abuses their power. Just because he has control over the Peaceful family (he owns their cottage and employs Molly and Mrs. Peaceful), he feels he can tell them to do and force them to bend to his whims. Unfortunately, the Peacefuls know that there is nothing they can do about this. What’s worse is that the Colonel is likely forcing Charlie to enlist purely out of spite, because he has a personal vendetta against Charlie after the Bertha incident.
Charlie accepts his fate, saying that he’s been feeling guilty about not enlisting recently anyway. Tommo immediately decides that he will go with Charlie. At not even sixteen, Tommo knows he is technically too young to fight, but thinks he could pass for the required age of seventeen if he tried.
Charlie is courageous as ever, and bravely accepts his fate. Tommo then demonstrates that he, too, is becoming a very brave young man, by deciding that he will join Charlie in the war. This is especially brave given that Tommo has a good excuse not to fight if he didn’t want to, as he is technically too young to enlist anyway.
Tommo doesn’t know why he made this decision looking back on it, but he supposes it was a mixture of things: partly that he couldn’t stand being apart from Charlie, and partly the “spark” of patriotism ignited within him by the marching band. But most of all, he thinks it was because of the old woman calling him a coward. He felt the need to prove that this wasn’t the case, and to prove his own bravery to himself.
The old woman in the village has shamed Tommo into risking his life in the war. Here, Morpurgo demonstrates how much of an impact words can have on people. Tommo is even willing to risk his life to prove the old woman wrong: he needs to prove to her that he is not a coward.
Only two days later, Charlie and Tommo leave for the war. Charlie thanks Tommo for coming with him as they leave, and they never mention Tommo’s joining him again.
Once again, Charlie and Tommo don’t need to speak much to be able to understand each other. Both boys already know how much it means to Charlie that Tommo is coming to fight with him.