CAHF Declares Honorary Poet

By John Chalmers
Membership Secretary

Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame (CAHF) has declared John Gillespie Magee Jr. as its Honorary Poet. Magee was a 19-year old Spitfire pilot serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force when he wrote his famous sonnet, “High Flight,” one of the best-known and best-loved aviation poems.

01 John G Magee JrBorn 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, Magee earned a scholarship to Yale University. However, in 1941, before the United States entered the Second World War, instead of attending university Magee enlisted in the RCAF and trained as a pilot in Canada, graduating with the rank of Pilot Officer.

Posted to England and qualifying as a Spitfire pilot, John wrote “High Flight” after 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, Magee was killed in a mid-air collision in England.

02 Magee wings

Wing Commander Wilfred A. Curtiss presents pilot’s wings to Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., at Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 14 April 1941. (RCAF)

Born on June 9, 1922, 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.

John’s brother, Hugh, has thanked Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame for the recognition and has stated, “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. 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.”

Linda Granfield, biographer of John Gillespie Magee Jr. with her book, High Flight, A Story of World War II, says, “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 recited by generations to come.”

The official announcement of Magee as Honorary Poet will be made at the 2017 Induction Dinner and Ceremonies to be held at the Vancouver International Airport on June 15. Guest presenter and speaker will be Her Honour Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.

03 Magee in cockpit

Pilot Officer Magee in the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire, No. 412 Squadron, RCAF.

New Members to be inducted to the Hall of Fame are: Erroll Boyd (1891-1960), who in 1930 was the first Canadian to fly across the Atlantic Ocean; Robert Deluce, President and CEO of Porter Airlines; Danny Sitnam, founder of Helijet International Inc.; and Rogers Smith, one of the world’s top test pilots. The former aerobatic team of the RCAF, the Golden 04 Book coverHawks, will receive the Belt of Orion Award for Excellence. Retired S/L Fern Villeneuve will be there to receive the award on behalf of the Golden Hawks, with former pilots and ground crew expected to be in attendance.
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Linda Granfield has extensively researched John Magee for her book, High Flight, and for her presentation about him at the 2013 CAHS convention.