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Seventy-fifth anniversary of 'High Flight'

"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings..." So begins 'High Flight,' perhaps the most renowned aviation poem, written by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr, in August 1941.

So begins 'High Flight', perhaps the most renowned aviation poem, written by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr, in August 1941.

Inspired by a high-altitude test flight of the new Spitfire V, the poem captured the joy and awe of flying and the pilot's ability to soar into the heavens to almost touch "the face of God."

High Flight

Magee finished the poem on the day of the test flight, 18 August 1941, and tragically died in a training accident less than three months later on 11 December. He was just 19 years old.

Magee flew with No. 412 (Fighter) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, but was born in China in 1922 to missionary parents. His mother was British, his father was American. As a child he attended boarding school in Britain and then travelled to the United States at the age of 17. With the start of the war, Magee stayed in the United States to complete his schooling.  

Unable to return to Britain and with the United States still officially neutral during the height of the Battle of Britain, Magee crossed the border into Canada and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in October 1940, forgoing a place at Yale University.  

After completing his training in Canada in early 1941, he was sent to Britain and eventually posted to the newly formed No. 412 (Fighter) Squadron at RAF Digby flying Spitfires. After his first combat flight on 8 November 1941, Magee penned what might have been his final poem, 'Per Ardua', and dedicated it to those: "those who gave their lives to England during the Battle of Britain and left such a shining example to us who follow…."

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