CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 2 . . . . September 22, 2000
The first of the wounded they picked up that night was young. Maybe nineteen years old. His tunic, soaked through with blood, had turned purple. It was the only thing holding him together.Yes, it is always like this when you are an under-age medic in France during World War I. So, how does Charlie Wilcox get from the outport of Brigus to Beaumont Hamel? An interesting blend of fact (Charlie Wilcox is the author's great-uncle) and fiction, Sharon E. McKay's novel tells the story. Charlie Wilcox is a Newfoundlander, born into a family of sailors and sealers. But, a club foot and the constant reminder that "He's not made for the ice" make it unlikely that he'll follow the tradition. As a result, his family sends him off to St. John's for a higher education than the local school can provide, and that trip provides an opportunity that changes everything. Finding his way down to the harbour, he boards a boat, believing it to be a sealing vessel. In fact, Charlie is on his way to Europe with other Newfoundland soldiers heading for the front. Barely fourteen, he is far too young to be fighting, and arrangements are made for him to be sent home. In the meantime, Charlie becomes a medic, begins searching for Lily Mackenzie, aka Mac, the beautiful young nurse who cared for him when he was in hospital in St. John's, and is exposed to the horrors and heroism of war.
Although it sounds like a typical "boy goes to war and grows up" adventure story, Charlie Wilcox is more. Its strong historical context provides a window on life in pre-Confederation Newfoundland, as well as a grimly realistic depiction of the weary life of the common soldier. There's romance, there's humour, and a fast-moving story that will appeal both to male and female readers.
Joanne Peters is the teacher-librarian at St. John's High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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