Tommo looks closely at his watch. Charlie once told him that it was a “wonderful watch,” but Tommo doesn’t think it is; if it were a truly wonderful watch, it would “make the time” instead of just counting it. Tommo wishes time would stop, instead of just ticking away.
It is still yet to be revealed what is happening to Tommo on this particular night, or why he might want time to stop instead of passing him by. Morpurgo continues to build the suspense.
Tommo and Charlie meet Sergeant “Horrible” Hanley at their training camp in France. Hanley “ha[s] it in for Charlie” from the very moment that the Peacefuls arrive, because Charlie refuses to “jump through hoops” for the arrogant Hanley as everyone else does. As a result, Hanley often calls Charlie names (such as “lousy vermin”) and punishes him for his behavior.
Sergeant Hanley is another example of an arrogant and spiteful man in a position of power, much like the Colonel. In further similarity with the Colonel, the Sergeant cannot stand Charlie, because Charlie is not afraid to stand up for himself. He refuses to submit to the Sergeant as the other men do.
Tommo remembers when he enlisted with Charlie. He stood up tall, trying to pass for seventeen, and Charlie introduced them as twins. The soldier eyed Tommo a little suspiciously, but allowed him to sign up anyway.
Morpurgo here seems to be criticizing the British Army for knowingly allowing underage soldiers to enlist for war. The soldier suspects that Tommo is too young, but lets him in anyway.
After enlisting, Tommo and Charlie are sent to an initial training camp at Salisbury Plain in England, where they are reunited with a few familiar faces from their village: Nipper Martin (a “little fellow” who was a turnip farmer), Pete Bovey (a well-built thatcher and avid cider drinker), and Les James (a rat-catcher). They have fun at the training camp, as nothing is taken too seriously, and the thought of real war seems very distant. The officers try to warn the trainee soldiers of the danger they are about to face, but none of it seems real. In hindsight, Tommo describes the camp as feeling like a “dress rehearsal” for some distant play, with all the soldiers as actors.
The fact that Tommo and Charlie run into a few of their friends from home makes their first training camp seem almost cheery, like a fun reunion of some kind. They certainly don’t seem too removed from their home at this point, and the thought of war in France seems a long way off. In fact, Tommo feels so detached from any real sense of the danger of the war that he later imagines all of the soldiers as being like actors in some grand play.
From the moment the boys boarded the ship for France, “the good times ended.” Even the journey is hellish, as Tommo and Charlie and most of the others are struck with violent seasickness. As they finally get off the boat, they see thousands of the “walking wounded” waiting to be taken back to England. Some of them smile and give words of encouragement, but most of them are silent and grim-faced. At this moment, the boys never again doubt the gravity of what the war will hold. Tommo realizes that all of their lives are at stake.
It is notable that from the very moment the soldiers embark on their journey to France, their world becomes hellish. If the journey in itself is terrible, this is surely a bad omen for what is to follow. The true sense of the horror of war only sinks in properly, however, when Tommo sees the battle-worn soldiers waiting to return to England. These soldiers were probably once young and eager just like Tommo, but are now leaving with their spirits completely crushed.
The boys then arrive at their French training camp in Etaples, and this is where they meet Sergeant Hanley, who is in charge of their company. He is “not a big man” but he has “eyes of steel that bore into [them], and a lashing snarl in his voice that terrifie[s] [them].” Everyone is scared of him, and does whatever he commands for fear of what would happen if they refused. Everyone, that is, except for Charlie, who won’t even laugh at Hanley’s jokes.
Morpurgo here demonstrates that it is not necessarily physical size or strength that is significant in a bully. Sometimes their personality can be vicious enough to scare anyone. Charlie is characteristically defiant in dealing with Hanley, however. He never gave in to bullies in his youth, and he doesn’t seem inclined to start doing so now.
One day, Hanley tells Charlie that he is a “blot on creation” and then asks him, “what are you?” Charlie replies, “Happy to be here, Sergeant,” for which he gets put on extra sentry duty, meaning he barely gets any sleep. After this first incident, Hanley maintains a personal vendetta against Charlie. Charlie, however, refuses to back down.
Charlie’s unwillingness to go along with Hanley’s “joke” might seem a little pointless here, as he gets himself into trouble for no good reason, but his defiance of Hanley is a point of principle for Charlie. Charlie clearly feels it is important that people like Hanley are put in their place once in a while, so their power doesn’t go completely to their heads.
As a result of his profound dislike of Charlie, Hanley starts picking on Tommo, too. By now, everyone in the company knows that Tommo was not Charlie’s twin, but his little brother, and that Charlie is very protective of Tommo as a result. Hanley must know this too, because he keeps finding reasons to punish Tommo unnecessarily.
Here Morpurgo again implicitly criticizes the British Army. If soldiers were too young to fight, they shouldn’t have been let into the army, and they certainly shouldn’t have been allowed to stay if it was obvious that they were underage.
Tommo soon becomes exhausted from all the punishments and extra sentry duty. One day, Hanley accuses him of having a dirty rifle barrel, and orders Tommo to run five circuits of the ground with his rifle above his head. Tommo is so exhausted that collapses after only a few circuits, but he recalls hearing a shout before losing consciousness. When he awakes, he is told that Charlie broke ranks and charged at Hanley, shouting at him and letting him know “exactly what he thought of him.” “Everyone cheered” when Charlie finished, but Charlie was immediately “marched off to the guardroom under arrest.”
It becomes clear here that Hanley is an excessively spiteful man. He is happy to take out his personal anger towards Charlie on Tommo, just because Tommo is Charlie’s brother, and despite the fact that Tommo has barely done anything wrong. Charlie clearly despises Hanley for this, and this is why he feels the need to break ranks to go and scream at Hanley when Tommo collapses.
As punishment, Charlie is ordered to “Field Punishment Number One,” which means being tied to a gun wheel and left there. The brigadier claims that Charlie got off lightly, and that mutiny can be punished by death. Charlie takes his punishment with dignity, making a point of holding his head high and smiling at Tommo whenever he passes. Tommo is upset seeing Charlie being punished. Charlie reminds him of Jesus hanging on the cross. Tommo sings a hymn that he used to sing in Sunday school: What a friend we have in Jesus, to “banish his tears as [he] marched. He replaces any mention of Jesus with Charlie’s name, singing “What a friend I have in Charlie.”
Charlie is presented as a martyr in this scene, to the extent that Tommo is reminded of Jesus himself hanging on the cross when he sees Charlie hanging from the wheel. Again, Charlie demonstrates his commendable bravery and dignity, and makes a point of taking his punishment with his head held high. In comparing Charlie to Jesus, Morpurgo explicitly presents his courage as being especially admirable.