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Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame 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 (RCAF) 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 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, LGov of British Columbia. Four new members of the hall will be inducted.
Born in Shanghai, China, to missionary parents, Magee attended Rugby School in England, where he first distinguished himself as a poet. Later, continuing his education in the U.S., Magee earned a scholarship to Yale University. However, in 1941, before the U.S. entered the Second World War, instead of attending university, he 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 fighter pilot, Magee 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 Dec. 11, 1941, Magee was killed in a mid-air collision with another trainee pilot in England.
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.
Rev. Magee has thanked Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame for the recognition bestowed upon his brother, 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 Magee 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 remembered by generations to come.”
“We are pleased that Lieutenant Governor Guichon will be inducting two members with strong B.C. connections: Danny Sitnam is founder of Helijet International Inc., based at the Vancouver International Airport, while Rogers Smith, one of the world’s top test pilots, was born in Dawson Creek,” said dinner committee chairman, retired RCAF LCol Mike Matthews. “As well, we are fortunate to have both Vancouver International Airport and Nav Canada as platinum sponsors for this gala event.”
Other Members to be inducted are Erroll Boyd (1891-1960), who in 1930 was the first Canadian to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, and Robert Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines, based at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. The former aerobatic team of the RCAF, the Golden Hawks, will receive the Belt of Orion Award for Excellence.