As I approached the funeral of Jim I was conscious that there was more to this elderly gentleman than most would have given him credit for. So often the professionals will see the elderly with the limitations that are currently visible, when they will often have so much filed away in their lives that reveal a wealth of experience. In Jim, they would have seen a man limited with many of the health issues that come with age. His speech had become limited, his thinking appeared to have slowed so much. His walking had also slowed down quite considerably. Yet despite that he was still being underestimated. I was fortunate because I had the opportunity to get to know him through the years, and there were so many positive memories I had discovered within his life.
I recall the time whilst in hospital he was in a ward where some of the patients were prone to wander. For their security a pin number was required to be able to use the exit doors, yet somehow Jim managed to escape. The staff hunted throughout the hospital, concerned for his safety and welfare. Eventually he was found enjoying a cup of coffee, relaxing in the hospital cafe. He was oblivious to the concerns the staff had for him. When asked how he managed to leave the ward he slowly said “I watched the guards as they used their codes”. He was a Prisoner of War during the 2nd World War, and was clearly recounting that this was nothing new in his experiences. The German guards were unable to keep him, and neither was the simple security system of a hospital.
Jim was well past retirement age when I came to know him, yet he was still able to communicate and make a valuable contribution to a conversation. He would come to the Church each Sunday Morning armed with a pocketful of sweets, passing them around the congregation before the service began. He would note what were the interests of the young people, and give them a gift of musical Cd’s or aircraft model kits. His generosity was beyond compare.
On a Friday morning, Jim would make his way to the “Coffee Mates”. It was a weekly drop in facility for men run by the church, and open to any men in the community. He enjoyed this opportunity to meet with other men, socialising over a cup of coffee. Often he would recall his youth in Fraserburgh, in the North of Scotland near Aberdeen. He would speak of the fishermen he knew, and the poems he remembered being spoken in the Doric, (The Doric is the popular name given to the dialect in the North East of Scotland.)
However, even more he remembered the experiences of the war, which had had a profound effect on his life. He was air crew, flying Lancaster Bombers over Italy and Germany and could still recount tremendous details. During World War II the Lancaster was the most successful bomber used by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force. The Lancaster had speed, ceiling, and lifting power that no other aircraft of the day could match. Weighing 36,900 pounds empty, the Lancaster was capable of taking off with an additional 33,100 pounds of fuel and bombs; in other words it could almost carry its own weight again. Lancasters were built to accomplish their specific purpose and crew comfort and security was clearly a secondary consideration. Generally flying under the cover of darkness, the Lancaster had virtually no defensive armour. The front, mid-upper, and rear gun turrets were hydraulically powered and carried a total of eight .303 calibre machine guns for defence against enemy aircraft.
He also spoke of the personal anguish he felt as he thought of the devastation he was responsible for from each bombing raid, and the feeling of guilt knowing he would need to return and repeat the bombing another time. It was one dark night that those bombing raids for him were to come to an end. They had received a direct hit and each member of the crew knew this was the end of their war. They knew the risks were always great, of the total of 7,377 Lancaster’s built, 3,932 were lost in action. There was little time to waste as they abandoned the aircraft and parachuted to the ground. Of the 7 man crew only 5 were to survive, yet it was invariably the 2 who died that would come to his mind, they were his friends and friendship ran deep when living in such cramped and dangerous conditions.
As he was captured and taken to the POW camp he made a vow he was determined to keep. There had been too much destruction, too much death, whether it be his friends or the people on the ground. Following the war he was determined things would be different. Every thing he did in the future needed to be a work of building, not destroying, he was determined life has to be better and all his resources needed to be aimed in that direction. Will he achieve his vow?
Following the war, Jim devoted himself to studying and training to ensure he gave his goal its best shot, and nothing would sway him from his intention. His last post prior to retirement was as the borough surveyor in the neighbouring town. To this day people still speak with admiration as they speak of the quality and ability of his work. He is a man that is upheld as one of the best who has held such a position, achieving what others would have said was impossible.
From destroyer to builder? Yes, that was indeed the man I came to know with affection, Jim.
Jon Magee was born in 1951 at RAF Cosford , in Shropshire, England into a nomadic family. His father served in the British Royal Air Force as a Medical Secretary, and so did he for 10 years as an Electronic Technician working on Aircraft communications. Consequently, by the time he reached the age of 30 he had never lived anywhere more than 3 years maximum, and was in 14 schools by the time he had completed his Secondary education.
The result is that he has lived through many of the milestones of : in the 1950’s he was in Singapore during the Chinese riots, 1960/62 was in Germany at the height of the cold war, 1966/67 was in Aden (Yemen)as a teenager in the midst of the conflict and terrorism of the time and the British evacuation. As an adult, Jon Magee arrived in Malta as the Maltese Prime Minister decided he did not like the British, and then he went to Cyprus with his new wife, Joan, 1973 – 1975, in time for the Military coup and Turkish invasions of 1974.
He is married to Joan and they have 3 daughters, 2 sons, and 7 grandchildren, which he affectionately refers to as “The Magnificent 7”. He now serves as Baptist minister in Scotland, as well as serving as a Chaplain in various schools and industrial establishments. He is also a Community Councillor in Lochgelly. Recently Jon Magee has been appointed as Chairman of the management committee of the Churches of Lochgelly Cowdenbeath and Kelty (CLoCK) Street Pastors.
As an author, his writings reflect that nomadic early life, and brings out the realism of what it is like to live at the heart of the conflicts in the world in a way that is only possible having experience of the situations. In addition to writing for magazines and local newspapers, Jon is the author of “From Barren Rocks … to Living Stones” and “Paradise Island, Heavenly Journey”.
Jon Magee is open to invitations to speak on his area of expertise in both secular and Church situations, and maybe contacted at Lochgellybaptist@aol.com