“High Flight” author John Magee to be honoured

News Article / April 11, 2017

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From Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr. will become Honorary Poet of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.  

Pilot Officer Magee was a 19-year old Spitfire pilot serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force when he wrote his famous sonnet, “High Flight”, which has become a symbol of lost aircrew in both peace and war.

The official announcement of Pilot Officer Magee as Honorary Poet will be made at the 2017 CAHF induction dinner and ceremonies to be held at the Vancouver International Airport on June 15, 2017. The guest presenter and speaker will be the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, Judith Guichon. Four new members of the Hall will be inducted.

 Born in Shanghai, China, to missionary parents, John G. Magee, Jr. attended Rugby School in England where he first distinguished himself as a poet. Later, continuing his education in the United States, he earned a scholarship to Yale University. However, in 1941, before the United States entered the Second World War, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force rather than attending university. He trained as a pilot in Canada and, upon graduation from No. 2 Service Flying Training School at Uplands, near Ottawa, was commissioned in the rank of pilot officer.

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer Magee was posted to England and qualifying as a Spitfire fighter pilot, serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 412 Squadron, which still exists to this day. He wrote “High Flight” after completing a training flight. The poem was mailed to his parents, first printed in a Pittsburgh newspaper, and became widely known after publication in his father’s Washington, D.C., church bulletin. On December 11, 1941, Pilot Officer Magee was killed in a mid-air collision with another trainee pilot in England.

John Magee was the eldest of four sons born to his American father and English mother. He is survived by one brother, The Reverend Canon F. Hugh Magee in Scotland who, like the boys’ father, served in the ministry.

“I am very pleased to express, on behalf of the entire Magee family, our gratification that the life of our John is being recognized and honoured as Honorary Poet of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame,” said the Reverend Magee.

“John combined two abilities that are not always found together; how many Spitfires do we know of that have been flown by poets? Your fitting tribute embraces both of these aspects of John’s short life in a most appropriate and distinctive manner.”

“It is both touching and appropriate that the life and words of Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr., a young pilot and poet of promise, will be enshrined at Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame and remembered by generations to come,” said Linda Granfield, author of a biography of Pilot Officer Magee titled High Flight, A Story of World War II.

2017 Inductees into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame
  • James Erroll Boyd – First World War pilot and co-founder of the Air Scouts of Canada
  • Robert John Deluce – Aviation executive; Founder of Porter Airlines
  • Daniel A. Sitnam – Aviation executive; Founder of Helijet Airways and Pacific Heliport Services
  • Rogers Eben Smith – NASA and National Research Council test pilot; RCAF pilot

The Royal Canadian Air Force’s Golden Hawks aerobatic team will receive the 2017 “Belt of Orion Award for Excellence”.

About Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame

Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame office is located at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, south of Edmonton and the Hall’s displays are located in the museum’s hangar. The Hall was founded in 1973, and its more than 225  inductees have come from all across Canada, having led extraordinary lives as military and civilian pilots, doctors, scientists, inventors, engineers, astronauts and administrators.

The Hall strives to increase the public’s understanding and interest in aviation history by making its displays, archives, records and artifacts accessible to current and future generations. The heroism and courage embodied in the members of the Hall serves to kindle the spirit of adventure in Canada’s youth.

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