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Remembering the tragic young pilot who swapped university for a seat in the skies

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: December 05, 2013

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We have often spoken about that band of Americans who defied their government before the events of Pearl Harbor and crossed the border to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

At a time when America was neutral and it was against the law to sign up with a nation that was at hostilities, 9,000 Americans joined the RCAF to fight for our freedom.

At Kirton in Lindsey there is a memorial to those Americans who died flying from Lincolnshire with the Eagle Squadrons, Royal Air Force squadrons commanded by RAF Squadron Leaders but manned by American pilots.

One American who, while not a member of one of the Eagle Squadrons, flew Spitfires with the RCAF was John Magee.

He wrote the poem High Flight which extols the sheer joy and freedom of flight.

An Anglo-America, he tragically lost his life in a mid-air collision flying from Wellingore airfield 72 years ago this month and is buried in Scopwick cemetery.

If you walk south along the High Dyke ancient Roman road at the back of Wellingore you will pass the site of the former RAF Wellingore airfield.

In this rural setting, all that remains are concrete pill boxes and you would not know that pilots such as Guy Gibson and John Magee once flew from there and were billeted in the village.

Plans are now being put in place to have a memorial to John Magee in Wellingore village.

A small committee has been formed to bring the plans to fruition and a design drawn up.

To find out more about the Memorial Project look at the website www.highflight wellingore.co.uk

Roger Cole, who lives in the village of Wellingore and is a member of the Memorial Committee, has spent several years researching John Magee and has written a book entitled High Flight – all about the young pilot's life.

As part of his research Roger interviewed Elinor Wright who was the daughter of the headmaster at Rugby School when John was a pupil there.

Although the young Magee had a crush on Elinor which was not reciprocated, they remained close friends up until his tragic death.

When Roger met her, Elinor gave him the bound book of poems which John Magee had had specially produced just for her before he died.

Roger has had a limited edition of the book re-printed but with the addition of Elinor's own poem which she wrote in tribute to John Magee following his death.

The High Flight book will be launched in Lincoln at the Hilton Double Tree Hotel on Friday December 6 at 11am. Roger will attend and give a short talk about John Magee and his research into such a remarkable young man who gave up a place at Yale University to join the RCAF.

The book will make an ideal Christmas present for aviation enthusiasts as well as those interested in poetry or life in wartime Lincolnshire.

Roger will also have copies of the limited edition of John's poems available for sale.

While we remember John Magee this week we must never forget two people lost their lives that day. Leading Aircraftman Ernest Griffin was the student pilot in the Airspeed Oxford trainer from Cranwell, one of many trainee aircrew who lost their lives during the war.

Meanwhile another group of Lincolnshire schoolchildren have experienced a wartime Christmas but this time at Thorpe Camp Visitor Centre. Despite the austere atmosphere of the event the children had a great time.

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