Sunday, 14 June 2020

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth ..

As a follow-up to a previous blog from June 2019 ~ “The Lost Voices of WWII RAF/RCAF Greenwood” ~ 

I was delighted to be invited by Dianne Hankinson LeGard, to the Decoration of the Graves ceremony at Old Holy Trinity Church in Middleton, Nova Scotia. This is the location of twenty-four Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) graves from WWII and three other post-war graves.

The Decoration of the Graves Service is an annual event held since 1942. It was initiated in response to a letter to the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) Rosemary Chapter in Middleton, from Annie Badham, of Kilgetty, Pembrokeshire, Wales, the grieving mother of Aircraftsman 2nd Class Ivor George Badham who died 21 May 1942 ~ she asked if someone could please lay flowers on her son’s grave and continue to care for it.

Due to the Covid-19 situation, this year’s event was scaled down with certain precautions having to be observed.

In the presence of IODE Rosemary Chapter President Shelley Reycraft, Rev. Canon Lynn Uzans, Mayor Sylvester Aikinson, representatives of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 001, personnel from 14 Wing (Greenwood) including Colonel Brendan Cook, MSM, CD and Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Campbell, MMM, CD, Bugler Sgt. Jordan Cuming and Piper Cindy MacLeod ~ I was invited to do the Roll of Honour and recite the poem “High Flight”.

Samuel Easton Somerville, son of Samuel and Jean Somerville, of Glasgow, Scotland

Roger Leon Corcoran, son of William Roger and Clarice Patience Corcoran, of Whakatane, Auckland, New Zealand

Edward Charles John Collins, son of John Lionel Stanley and Myrtle Emily Collins, of Clermont, Queensland, Australia

After the ceremony at Old Holy Trinity Church in Middleton, I went with Dianne Hankinson LeGard, to place a rose at each of the CWGC graves at St Lawrence Roman Catholic Cemetery, in nearby Kingston, Nova Scotia

The poignant and uplifting poem “High Flight” was written by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jnr., who was born 9 June 1922 in Shanghai, China, to an American father and British mother, who both worked in that country as Anglican missionaries.

In 1929, he began his education at the American School in Nanking. Two years later, he moved with his mother to Britain where he continued his education first at St. Clare's near Walmer, Kent and then later at the famed Rugby School in Warwickshire, where in 1938, he won the school's poetry prize.

In 1939 he moved to the USA and attended Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut. Later he earned a scholarship to Yale University, but decided not to enroll, choosing instead to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force in October of that year.

After his flight training at St Catherines, Ontario, where he passed his Wings Test in June ‘41, John now a commissioned pilot officer was sent to Britain and was posted to RAF Llandow in Wales.

On 3 September, 1941, he flew a high-altitude test flight at 30,000 feet in a new Mk V Spitfire. Overwhelmed by the flight, he was immediately inspired to put his experience into words.So, upon landing, he went straight to his quarters and on the back of a letter to his parents in Washington DC, he wrote the now famous poem “High Flight”.

He was later assigned to RCAF 412 Fighter Squadron, at RAF Digby in Lincolnshire, from where he flew a number of sorties over occupied France.

On 11 December 1941, during his tenth week of active service, Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jnr. was killed in a mid-air collision during a training flight ~ he was only 19 years old. John is buried at Scopwick Church Burial Ground, Lincolnshire, England.

Over the decades, John’s poem “High Flight” has been used widely by many ~ the words have formed verses of songs, it has been quoted by astronauts in outer space, been used in speeches by US Presidents and often mentioned at events like this. Today it is the official poem of both the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force.

High Flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Roll of Honour
Old Holy Trinity Cemetery, Middleton, NS

Leading Aircraftman   George Robert Pacey   RAFVR
Pilot Officer   Leonard Herbert Teer   RAFVR
Flying Officer   Rex James Wallis   RNZAF
Pilot Officer   Trevor Alfred Pittock   AF
Pilot Officer   Allan James Rutherford   RAAF
Flying Officer   John Charles William Bruce   RAFVR
Aircraftman 1st Class   Samuel Easton Somerville   RAFVR
Sergeant   Arnold Longstaff   RAF
Sergeant   Henry Lionel John Wilkins   RAF
Corporal   Herbert Bentley   RAFVR
Pilot Officer   Claude Wynter Arthur Blick   RAAF
Flight Sergeant (Pilot)   Jack Nettleton Hopkinson   RAFVR
Aircraftman 2nd Class   Albert John Botcher   RAFVR
Aircraftman 2nd Class   Ivor George Badham   RAFVR
Sergeant   Harry B. Turner   RCAF
Flying Officer   Edward C. W. Hutt   RCAF
Flight Lieutenant   Percy Byng-Hall   RAF
Warrant Officer   Harold Braumont Uren   RAAF
Flying Officer   Jack Norman Reedie   RAAF
Flying Officer   Roger Leon Corcoran   RNZAF
Sergeant   Douglas Charles Andre Gillespie   RNZAF
Flight Sergeant   Regnald Bellhouse   RAAF
Flying Officer   Edward Charles John Collins   RAAF
Flying Officer   William Thomas Slaughter   RAAF
Sergeant (Pilot)    Kenneth George Fuge Harvey   RAFVR
Pilot Officer   James Gerald Brown   RAFVR
Pilot Officer   Maurice Albert William Henley   RAFVR

St Lawrence Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kingston, NS

Pilot Officer   (Belgian National) Albert Marie Louis Adhemar
De Steenhault De Waerbeek   RAFVR
Pilot Officer   Francis Clive Gaha   RAAF
Squadron Leader   Louis Alexander George Howard   RAF
Flying Officer   Hugh Edward McCann   RAFVR
Flying Officer   Patrick Flood O'Hanlon   RAFVR
Flying Officer   John Dermot Walsh   RNZAF
Warrant Officer   C. R. Arsenault   RCAF