Lost Black Sheep

During my research on John Magee, I had found out that he was a cousin to Christopher Lyman Magee.  Chris was a member of the famed WWII Black Sheep squadron, becoming an ace with nine kills.

Since I have been putting together a family tree for John Magee, I wanted to know exactly how John and Chris were related.  So I read a couple of great books, one on the Black Sheep squadron itself: Once They Were Eagles: The Men of the Black Sheep Squadron by Frank Walton, and Lost Black Sheep: The Search for WWII Ace Chris Magee by Robert T. Reed.

Most of the specific information I got was from Reed’s book.  It’s an impressive story about a complex man.  I was very touched about the ups and downs of Chris’s life.  Chris has actually joined the RCAF just about the time John was shipping out overseas, mid-1941, and transferred to the Navy/Marine Corps a little later.  I wondered if Chris was inspired by what his cousin John had done, or was just eager to become a fighter pilot.  Both Chris and John flew a couple of the most advanced fighters of that time: the Chance-Vought Corsair and the Supermarine Spitfire, respectively.

Chris and John also shared a love of reading and writing.  Did they ever meet, I wonder?  If they did, I can’t help but wonder what the conversation would have been like…

What I did on my summer vacation, or, Meeting a Genuine Hero

My son and I went on a little cross-country summer excursion a few weeks ago.  We had two objectives: visit Barry Needham in Wynyard, Saskatchewan, Canada, and attend the Canada Remembers Airshow in Saskatoon, SK.  And although the airshow was rained out, we did manage to meet Barry, who made the trip well worthwhile.

Departing the Portland, Oregon area, we drove northeast through Washington, and crossed into Canada at Kingsgate, northern Idaho.  Soon we traded the beautiful mountains of British Columbia for the plains of Alberta.  A couple of days found us in Saskatchewan province, making a left turn at Regina and winding up in the charming town of Wynyard.

Flight Lieutenant Barry Needham, RCAF (retired), joined 412 Squadron the same day as did John Magee.  At the time, Barry was a Flight Sergeant.  Turns out that Barry did not know John very well, as officers and enlisted men did not socialize too much.  But certainly they flew together; in the air, ranks seemed to mostly disappear.

Barry was able to give me a considerable amount of detail concerning Digby and Wellingore.  He was gave me a great gift: his entire file on John Magee.  Barry, being a member of 412 Squadron at the same time as Magee, had quite a bit of correspondance regarding Magee from various researchers.  What a treasure trove!  Thank you, Barry!

412 Squadron had quite a history after Magee died.  I understand the squadron moved something like 17 times during the war.  Barry’s actually served with 412 Squadron twice, at the beginning and end of the war.

Barry’s flying came to a halt after he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over France.  Fortunately, he was not severely injured, and wound up in a POW camp.  Barry was liberated by Patton after just over a month.

I am deeply indebted to Barry for allowing me to spend a day with him and his lovely wife Martha (who very kindly took care of my son and also makes a wonderful lemon meringue pie!).  I hope I am as sharp as Barry is when I am 89!

It’s not every day that you get to meet a genuine hero.  Although Barry would not agree at all that he’s any kind of hero…. he was “just doing my job.”  I would have to disagree; anybody who has put themselves in harm’s way and have people trying to kill them are absolutely heroes.

Thanks, Flight Lieutenant Needham.

Barry and I in his office.

Barry and I in his office.

Barry with a Tiger Moth at primary flight training.

Barry with a Tiger Moth at primary flight training.

Barry's wartime picture, medals and Wings.

Barry’s wartime picture, medals and Wings.