A/N: I recently read 'Private Peaceful' by Michael Morpurgo and I cried like a baby at the end! I knew, after reading it, that I had to find out if these soldiers had been pardoned yet, and to my delight I found that I had. And so I was inspired to write this fic. I hope you enjoy.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
I thought this day would never come. My mother, grandmother, and Uncle Tommy (my namesake) talked about it often but never believed it would happen, at least not in our lifetime. And it very nearly didn't.
I'm the last one now. Grandmother died many years ago and Uncle Joe, or Big Joe as everyone called him, died shortly after that. He seemed to just lose the will to live. He and his mother were always tied together somehow; always seemed to understand one another.
My mother died about thirty years ago. She went quietly in her sleep. I'm happy she died like that. I found her with a smile on her face and I knew she was thinking of my father. After that it was just us two Tommos.
Growing up he was my surrogate father, but he never failed to tell me everything about his brother. 'The best man I've ever known,' he always said. And after all his stories I feel like I know him. Uncle Tommy said I looked just like my father, with a touch of my mother. He said that as he watched my grow up it was like watching Dad all over again, and seeing how he would have turned out. I always liked it when he said that.
When he died a few years ago he went peacefully. Huh, peaceful. It seems like all of us Peacefuls have gone that way, even my father. The execution may not have been but he was; and that's why everyone loved him. He always did what was right and it was murder that took him away. Not war, not an accident. It was murder.
And now here I am, ninety years later, at an event I never thought possible.
There are many people here, and I know they are all family to the 306 soldiers who were executed for cowardice or desertion during World War I, or The Great War as we knew it. But I am the only one here for my father.
The air is full of chatter and excitement. Today we are marching past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day in celebration to a wonderful event. Well, some of us hobble more than march. After a while I find a bench and watch as everyone else passes by. I sit here quietly, twisting the watch on my wrist; the watch that never breaks; my father's watch; my uncle's watch, and now my watch.
I watch as it strikes 2 o'clock. A few seconds later I hear Big Ben strike the same time. The famous clock is slow. My watch is never fast and is never slow, that's what my uncle told me and what my father told him.
Suddenly my emotions overcome me. All I can do is just sit there and cry. I think back to just a few days ago when I learned that all 306 British soldiers who were shot at dawn for cowardice or desertion would be posthumously pardoned. I knew that people had been petitioning for a while to have the pardon granted but, like so many times before, I didn't think it possible. I just laughed it off, saying that there was no chance for it. Maybe for one or a few men if there was evidence against the court marshal, but what evidence could there be after all this time? So when the news came I was simply overwhelmed, like I am now.
I close my eyes and try to remember everything I've ever been told about Charlie Peaceful. I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out a picture of my father holding me as a baby. It was the only time he had seen me and the only time I had ever seen him. Looking at this colourless picture I try to bring it to life. I flush it with colour, feel my father's warm arms around me; his gentle laugh; his sparkling eyes; the love that emanated from him. I hold the photo close to my heart and keep those feelings in my mind.
Suddenly my thoughts are interrupted by a tugging at my sleeve. I open my eyes and see a little boy looking up at me. He can't be more than five years old. He has straw coloured hair and eyes like green fields. His round little face a picture of confusion.
"Why are you sad?" he asked.
I smile at that. I guess to a child I would look a bit sad. "I'm not sad. I'm really happy. I'm just thinking about my father." I show him the photo.
"Is that him?" He points at my father.
"Yep, that's him. And that's me." I point to the baby.
He looks at my funny. "He doesn't look like you."
I can't help it. I laugh aloud. "No, not anymore, I guess."
"Was your dad a soldier?"
I nod. "Yes. He was."
"Was he killed?" Again I nod, but my voice won't let me talk. "My great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was a soldier. He died in the war, too; in battle. He was a sergeant. What was your dad?"
Again, a confused look spreads across the boy's face. "Is that better or worse?"
I chuckle. "Sergeant is above a private."
Our conversation is interrupted by a woman, looking slightly panicked, coming towards us.
"There you are! Charlie, don't do that to me! You scared my half to death." She takes the boy's hand, Charlie's hand, and turns to address me. "I'm sorry about that, sir. Charlie has a habit of running off and talking to people he doesn't know."
I wave off the apology. "No, no. That's all right. I was actually enjoying our conversation." I turn back to the boy. "So your name is Charlie, huh? That was my father's name. Charlie Peaceful. And my name's Tommo Peaceful." I hold out my hand he she shakes it.
"I'm Charlie Hanley," he says.
My heart seems to stop. It couldn't be…
"Hanley?" I say, looking up at the boy's mother.
"Yes. My husband's great grandfather was a sergeant in the war. I'm Rebecca." I shake her proffered hand but I'm in a daze. "Well, we should get going. It was good to meet you." She turns with Charlie in tow. The little boy turns and waves at me, a wide, innocent, and loving smile on his face. I wave back. And then they are lost from sight in the hustle and bustle of the crowd.
I sit back down, having stood up when Rebecca had approached. I can't believe it. I had heard stories of Sergeant "Horrible" Hanley, about how he had made my father's and uncle's lives a living hell and how he was responsible for my father's execution. For all these years my entire family had held a grudge, had hated that man, though he was long since dead.
But after meeting that young boy, his sweet smile, who bore the name of my father and his pursecuter, I don't know how I can keep that grudge. I just doesn't seem worth it anymore.
So I sit there, smiling, eyes closed and thinking about my father and the little boy. My watch ticks on; the picture pressing against my heart. And then I started to hum.
"Oranges and Lemons say the bells of Saint Clements…"
After doing some research on the posthumous pardon of all these soldiers I found these websites to be the most helpful and the most interesting. Please give them a look it you want to know the truth about how this miracle came to be.
http: /www. guardian. co.
http: /www. guardian. co. ?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487
http: /www. guardian. co. ?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487
http: /news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/uk_
http: /en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Harry_Farr
http: /www. youtube. com/watch?v=3uQ0a8ZHsqo
Also, be sure to remove the spaces or the websites won't work!