Charlie Wilcox’s Great War


Author: Sharon McKay
Publisher: Puffin Canada, 2003
ISBN: 0-14-301471-4


This is a sequel to Charlie Wilcox, Sharon E. McKay’s celebrated novel (three awards and a Governor General’s Award Nomination) about a 14-year-old from Brigus, Newfoundland who plans to stow away on a sealing ship and ends up on a troopship headed for England and the trenches instead.

 Either as a sequel or on its own, Charlie Wilcox’s Great War is an outstanding success. McKay tells the bulk of Charlie’s story through his own recollections, once he’s safely home again in l919. The novel opens as he lands in Brigus after three years away and begins to pick up the threads of the old life.

 But he has changed, thinks Claire, the girl whom he left behind; he is “older in his heart somehow.”  As they struggle to reconnect, her need to know about war meshes with his need to unburden his heart, and over the course of a long afternoon, he tells her his story.

 It’s an epic story that’s also touchingly human in its graphic detail, fleeting friendships and innate responses to danger. One memorable example is Charlie’s unscheduled flight over occupied France in a two-seater biplane piloted by teen-aged, toffee-nosed twit. They are, of-course, shot-down, and manage a hair-raising and hilarious escape with the help of two friendly barmaids. Outrageous as this adventure may sound, its par for the course in Charlie Wilcox’s Great War.

 But even for a teenager war can be hell, a fact which McKay’s overriding message makes clear. Her hero survives, but several of his comrades do not. And falling sick while in the trenches, or hoping to stay alive until nightfall while hanging on the barbed wire in No Man’s Land, are experiences no human being should have to undergo. Charlie Wilcox finds his courage on the battlefield, but no one who reads this fine novel will want to go and do likewise.

Review from Books in Canada, Summer 2003.