An Announcement about Our Royal Patronage

Lunchtime Lecture (London): Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth: John Magee Jr., Questions on Nationality and an Evolving Legend

11 June 2024

On Tuesday 11th June 2024 at 12pm, Emily Walton will explore the legacy of John Magee Jr. This talk will be hosted in-person at the RAF Museum’s London site and virtually via Crowdcast.

 

Talk Outline

The poem ‘High Flight’ is internationally known and quoted but the story of its author is less well known. Yet John Magee Jr.’s story and the framing of his narrative since his death can help explore and understand debates stretching beyond aviation circles.

 

John Magee Jr. was only 19 when he wrote the poem that is often misreferred to as the official poem of the RAF, RCAF and the USAAF. Four months later, he was killed in a mid-air collision that would claim the lives of two 19-year-olds a few days after Pearl Harbour. As a result, High Flight and the narrative of the ‘tragic romantic’ fighter pilot were catapulted onto the world scene and would remain in focus for the whole of the Second World War. Soon after, the poem would overtake its author’s narrative until another catastrophe in 1986 brought him back into the public discussion, away from military circles and into the public imagination again. With each re-discovery of the poem’s origins, focus on Magee increases and each generation adds to the narrative drawing from cultural stereotypes providing a perfect case study to explore how much the fighter pilot stereotype is feeding public interest.

 

Despite the continuations in his portrayal as the stereotypical fighter pilot, each time Magee enters public imagination, there is a small variation in how he is portrayed that alludes to a wider debate, one of nationality. Magee’s story and identity is not so simple as he has the potential to be ‘claimed’ by four nations through birth, parentage and military service. Magee’s story can therefore be used not only to explore questions over the impact of stereotypes in public imagination but also demonstrate how by focusing on one example, historians can tackle wider debates and connect to academia, the military and the public.

Location
This hybrid lecture will be hosted in-person at the RAF Museum’s London site in the Lecture Theatre. Attendance in-person is free but registration is required via Digitickets.
Livestream
To attend virtually, register via Crowdcast.

About Emily Walton

After graduating from Kings College London, Emily now works at the Air Historical Branch as a researcher with a focus on historic casualty identification. In the past, she has volunteered with the International Bomber Command Memorial, RAF College Cranwell and Thorpe Camp Visitor Centre (old RAF Woodhall Spa).


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