John Gillespie Magee Jr. Poems

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John Gillespie Magee Jr.
John Gillespie Magee Jr Magee's Grave, ScopwickPilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Junior (June 9, 1922 – December 11, 1941) was an Anglo-American aviator and poet who died as a result of a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire during World War II. He was serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, which he joined before the United States officially entered the war. He is undoubtedly most famous for his poem High Flight. John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was born in Shanghai, China, to an American father and a British mother who worked as Anglican missionaries. His father, John Gillespie Magee, was from a family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of some wealth and influence—there is the Pittsburgh Magee Hospital and the Magee Building. Magee, disregarding family wealth, chose to become an Episcopal priest and was sent as a missionary to China and there met his wife - Faith Emmeline Backhouse. Faith came from Helmingham in Suffolk, England, and was a member of the Church Missionary Society. John and Faith were married in 1921, and John junior was born in 1922. He had an older brother, Hugh. Proud of their origins and wanting to provide their sons knowledge of their Anglo-American roots, John and Hugh's parents resolved to send them, when they were old enough, first to school in England and then to college in America. John junior began his education at the American School, Nanking (1929-1931). In 1931 he moved with his mother to Britain where he continued his education first at St. Clare's near Walmer, Kent (1931-1935) and then at Rugby School (1935-1939) winning the Rugby School's poetry prize in 1938. In 1939 he moved to the USA to live with his aunt in Pittsburgh and attended Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Connecticut. He earned a scholarship to Yale University - where his father was then a chaplain - in July 1940 but did not enroll, choosing instead to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force in October of that year. He received training in flying in Ontario at Toronto, Trenton, St. Catharines, and Uplands and passed his Wings Test in June 1941. He was sent to Britain initially to No. 53 Spitfire Operational Training Unit (OTU) in Llandow, Wales later that year and then to the newly formed No 412 Fighter Squadron, RCAF, which was activated at Digby, England, on 30 June 1941. The motto of this squadron was and is 'Promptus ad vindictam' (Latin: Swift to avenge). Magee was qualified on and flew the Supermarine Spitfire. Magee was killed at the age of 19 when the Spitfire airplane he was flying (markings VZ-H, serial number AD-291) collided with an Oxford Trainer from RAF Cranwell flown by LAC Ernest Aubrey in a cloud at about 400 feet (120 m) AGL (above ground level) at 11:30 over the village of Roxholm which lies between RAF Cranwell and RAF Digby, in Lincolnshire, England. Magee was descending at the time. At the inquiry afterwards a farmer testified that he saw the Spitfire pilot struggling to push back the canopy. The pilot stood up to jump from the plane but was too close to the ground for his parachute to open and died instantly. Magee is buried at Holy Cross, Scopwick Cemetery in Lincolnshire, England. On his grave are enscribed the first and last lines from his poem

high flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;... [read poem]
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