High Flight, The Life and Poetry of Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee

B1917

Magee penned his poem “High Flight” and provided inspiration to legions of aspiring aviators. That alone would be a fitting epitaph for any young man killed long before his natural time. Through his other poetry and writings, he has provided the basis on which the author has eloquently traced his life, achievements, human endeavour, vision, determination and self-sacrifice. Photographic plate sections add to the text, rounding the picture. This is a military history that will appeal to all those interested in understanding the military past, but it is also a very personal history and a look into the creativity of Pilot Office Magee that should appeal to a very much wider readership. The inspiration for aspiring aviators is as fresh and appropriate today as it was when Magee penned “High Flight”.

reviews

adn

bgn

nthn

ftd

NAME: High Flight, The Life and Poetry of Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
DATE: 191213
FILE: R1917
AUTHOR: Roger Cole
PUBLISHER: Fighting High
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 175
PRICE: £19.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT:
ISBN: 978-095711-636-8
IMAGE: B1917.jpg
BUYNOW: contact by email to buy direct fightinghighbooks@btinternet.com
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: This is a particularly moving story on several levels and a very welcome addition to the personal stories of the Second World War. The author has drawn together, from extensive research, the elements of a short life that was well observed by the subject. As the survivors of WWII move on into their nineties, their numbers inevitably reduce with increasing rapidity. All too soon, the last of them will move on into history and first hand accounts will be available in new books only by reprinting or extracting from books now out of print.

Pilot Officer Magee will live on through his poetry and this adds a dimension to the character. It is one thing to keep a diary or write a book during or shortly after the experience of battle, but poetry shows something of the soul, a dimension beyond the record of battle and recounting of experiences.

As the years pass, and the teaching of recent history falls below the standards that it should aspire to and achieve, generations of young people will have difficulty in understanding the real course of WWII and the courage of those who reluctantly or eagerly came to battle.

The Great War had introduced a number of new weapons systems. One was combat aviation. This contrasted with the dirt and noise of the trenches with the incessant pounding of artillery and the constant chatter of machine guns. Pilots were experiencing a new form of warfare, but they were also experiencing a new world of aviation. When that war-to-end-all wars came to an exhausted halt, aviation continued on to new achievements in peace-time.

By 1939, the ghost of the Great War and its unsatisfactory treaty conclusion came back to haunt the world. It was to be an aerial war, as dive bombers took on the duties previously the preserve of artillery, parachutists introduced the vertical insertion of troops, flying tank busters took on the armour, naval aviation replaced the naval big-gun battleship as the principle weapon at sea, the strategic bomber shortened war by ensuring that the enemy was vulnerable in his homeland and production of weapons and other vital materials of war was subject to disruption by round-the-clock bombing. In less than three decades, the infantry, cavalry and battleships that had dictated the course of war for more than five hundred years were forced into a subordinate role. Even the old maxim that “Victory can only really be achieved by placing the feet of soldiers on enemy soil”. The conclusion of WWII was achieved with the dropping of two terrible new bombs on Japan. There was the capacity, for the very first time to simply eliminate the enemy from high above, achieving total genocide. With all the criticism of the Americans who dropped those two bombs, the compassion was that they limited the bombardment to two targets as a demonstration of power, choosing to accept a complete surrender and going on to assist the one-time enemy to rebuild its society and economy.

Since 1945, we have faced a different set of threats, with an armed neutrality, achieved only by allowing two power blocks to threaten each other with nuclear bombardment, and with a series of localized but very violent struggles in proxy wars as the two power blocks flexed muscles in the psychological warfare that ran through the armed neutrality. That most recent military environment, and the changes to societies as consumerism has changed the way that many view humanity, only history can provide a vision of alternative environments.

Pilot Officer Magee was born of an American father and an English mother in Nanking, China. At that time China was an exotic part of the world where European and American traders operated and Christian missionaries attempted to convert the local population to Christianity. From Nanking, Magee grew up and was educated in different parts of the world. In spite, or because, of this nomadic education, he proved a highly accomplished student. Through his experiences, he developed a set of principles, of service and respect and honour. He was exhilarated by flight and discovered a unique language in poetry to express his emotions and sentiments of flight, feelings shared with pilots around the world.

With America deciding to sit on the sidelines and watch the extinguishing of democracy through Europe, Magee did what many other principled young Americans did, and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Magee was one of many to die very young when he lost his life in an air collision at the age of nineteen. He was not to know how his poetry had come to inspire others to fly, or how it was to provide a very valuable human insight into WWII in the air.

Magee penned his poem “High Flight” and provided inspiration to legions of aspiring aviators. That alone would be a fitting epitaph for any young man killed long before his natural time. Through his other poetry and writings, he has provided the basis on which the author has eloquently traced his life, achievements, human endeavour, vision, determination and self-sacrifice. Photographic plate sections add to the text, rounding the picture. This is a military history that will appeal to all those interested in understanding the military past, but it is also a very personal history and a look into the creativity of Pilot Office Magee that should appeal to a very much wider readership. The inspiration for aspiring aviators is as fresh and appropriate today as it was when Magee penned “High Flight”.

Leave a Reply