John Gillespie Magee The Pilot Poet
Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee was killed in a collision with an aircraft from RAF Cranwell on 11th December 1941 while Magee was serving with 412 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) at RAF Digby and whilst he was dispersed to RAF Wellingore. He was just nineteen years old and was buried with full military honours at Scopwick Cemetery near Digby aerodrome.
At the request of the Reverend Canon Hugh Magee, the brother of John, the weekend’s events commenced with a short service and a private act of remembrance at Scopwick Cemetery on Saturday morning led by Reverend A T Coates RAF, Chaplain at RAF Digby. Accompanied by family and friends and around twenty local villagers, Hugh Magee laid a wreath on his brother’s grave. The Last Post was sounded in memory of Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee and an honour guard of US Air Force, US Navy and Canadian Army personnel flanked the war graves in the cemetery.
On Saturday afternoon Roger Cole gave an informative and thought provoking talk about the inspirational pilot to more than seventy five people in the conference room of the Lincoln Hotel. Some extracts from Magee’s poems were read by Hugh Magee and Phil Bonner, with proceeds from the talk being donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund. In the evening AHL also hosted a dinner for invited guests at the Lincoln Hotel.
The Sunday morning service of Choral Mattins at Lincoln’s Cathedral included a commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the death of John Gillespie Magee. Invited guests included the Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, the High Sheriff of Lincolnshire, The Right Worshipful the Mayor of Lincoln, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach KCB CBE FRAeS, representatives of the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force and Canon Hugh Magee, his wife and family friends.
During the service John Magee’s poem “High Flight” was read by Alistair Blundy from Rugby School and Flight Lieutenant Ed Jackson from the RAF College Cranwell. A second John Magee poem “Per Ardua” was read by Flight Lieutenant Emma Gallagher from the RAF College Cranwell, after which Hugh Magee laid a wreath in honour of his brother.
After the service Hugh Magee re-laid the wreath in the Airmen’s Chapel in the North Transept of the Cathedral. The guests attended a post service function in the Bishop’s Palace opposite the Cathedral. John Gillespie Magee was one of many Americans who broke his country’s law on neutrality and crossed the border in 1940 into Canada and volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force. The events of this weekend highlighted Lincolnshire’s North American aviation connections and they paid an emotional tribute to the ‘The Pilot Poet’ who wrote ‘High Flight’. Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire is funded by an award of £436,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Photographer and Author: Howard Heeley