War Artist Visits Quebec High School

War Artist Visits Quebec High School

On Wednesday 4th May 2011, Sharon McKay, author and war artist, visted Quebec High School to give a lecture on her books and experiences of life in a conflict zone.

Sharon explained that to write her books (numbering Esther, Charlie Wilcox, Charlie Wilcox’s War and Thunder Over Kandahar), she puts herself in the location (where possible) to really get a feel for the subject.

She told the audience that her latest novel, Thunder Over Kandahar, has at least six ‘fact checkers’ to ensure that the right message comes across correctly and with no errors.

Sharon gave an insight into life in a war zone with the Canadian Army. When in Afghanistan, Mrs McKay stayed at a Forward Operations Base (FOB) near the Pakistan border.

This allowed her to get out on patrol with the Canadian troops, get a feel for the area and meet some of the local community.
She explained about life in Afghanistan from a burka-wearing 13 year old pregnant child’s perspective. The opressive nature of their life under the Taliban regime being brought home. This being completely at odds to what we’d accept as the norm here in Quebec City, Canada.

We also heard about camp life from a soldier’s perpective.
This included internet access to ‘Skype’ home to read a bedtime story to a child, a chat about the plumber being way too expensive and the car being serviced.

This proves that even over there, life back here in Canada goes on and the soldiers, where possible, feel very much a part of it.

The difference being, due to the nature of their job, their location and the severity of the security situation, that call home might just be their last.

Harsh yes, but reality all the same.

This was demonstrated by the description of a ‘ramp ceremony’. This left the audience spellbound. You could have heard a pin drop.

Sharon McKay explained that when a Canadian soldier gives his life in the line of duty, he will receive four ramp ceremonies.
One on leaving Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan, another on landing in Dubai at Camp Mirage, a third on leaving Camp Mirage and the final ceremony on arriving in Canada.

McKay witnessed a ramp ceremony at Camp Mirage. She informed us that this took place at 2 am local time (to ensure that the plane landed in Canada around 9am Canadian time).

Setting the scene, McKay stated that in the stillness of the pitch black desert night, the black Hercules plane shows one light ready for the casket containing the body to be piped aboard. The extraordinary eeriness is suddenly broken by ‘Amazing Grace’ emanating from the bagpipes.
The 300 assembled soldiers listen intently, stock still. The padre says a prayer, swiftly followed by a voice ordering those present ‘Soldiers, salute your comrade’.
At this, the servicemen and women salute and you could hear the sound of hands cutting the air.

The Hercules aircraft tail ramp closes, with this, the light gone and the plane leaves for home.

The soldiers disperse in an efficient,unfussy manner. It’s over. The stillness of the silent desert night returns.
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Story and photo: LifeinQuebec.com

Sharon McKay’s books are available in all good bookshops.

In Quebec City, AngloStore has signed copies of:

Thunder Over Kandahar a
Charlie Wilcox and
Charlie Wilcox’s War

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