There are many excellent and fitting memorials around the country dedicated to the RAF and USAAF personnel. Many of these are relatively new and make for terrific places to sit, remember and give thanks to the young men and women who gave so much.
I have visited a few myself and will feature them here as I get round them. If you have been to one and would like to write a piece for us, please feel free to contact us, and we can make the necessary arrangements to post it here. We would love your contribution.
My first is the American Cemetery at Madingley.
Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial – Madingley
Not far from Cambridge, to the west of the M11, is the American Cemetery and Memorial at Madingley.
Madingley is the only American Military Cemetery in the United Kingdom, dedicated solely to the Second World War. It covers an area of some 30 acres and the land it uses was donated by Cambridge University. The site was dedicated on July 16th 1956. It is operated and maintained solely by the American Battle Monuments Commission, who oversee 24 cemeteries and 25 memorials across 15 different countries.
The cemetery has become a symbol of not only the sacrifice of those held within its walls but the 3 million Americans who were stationed here during Word War II and the continuing alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States in times of conflict.
Within the cemetery stand 3,812 headstones, 3,732 Latin crosses, and 80 Stars of David. The stones are laid out in a fan, each row like a ripple in a pool, with the origin at a flagpole, from which the entire site and surrounding countryside can be seen. Around the base of the flag pole are the words from “In Flanders Fields“, a World War I poem written by John McCrae, which reads: “To you from failing hands, we throw the torch – be yours to hold it high“. Every night, as the flag is lowered, ‘Taps’ is played on a bugle to signify the end of the military day and lights out – the time to sleep.
Next to this are two buildings. Firstly, the visitors’ centre, where there is a place to sit and staff who will willingly search the Commission’s online database for you. On the wall outside the centre is a plaque dedicated to the crew of a B-24 of the 577th BS, 392nd BG, that flew from RAF Wendling; who through their actions avoided crashing into civilian homes in Hertfordshire. Next to this, is an exhibition hall, detailed through stories and pictures, the American involvement in the Second World War; with specific examples of some of those souls laid to rest at Madingley.
Along the southern side of the cemetery, is the wall holding the “Tablets of the Missing”. Here, the names, rank and service branch of 5,127 personnel, whose bodies were never found are located. Among them are those of Major Alton Glenn Miller and Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (Older brother of John F. Kennedy), to name but a few.
Along the top of the wall is the inscription:
“The Americans, whose names here appear, were part of the price that free men for the second time in this century, have been forced to pay to defend human liberty and rights. All who shall hereafter live in freedom
will be here reminded that to these men, and their comrades,
we owe a debt to be paid with grateful remembrance of their sacrifice,
and the high resolve that the cause for which they died
shall live eternally.”
The 427 foot long wall, has 4 statues representing: a soldier, an airman, sailor and coast guardsman, who stand guard over the inscriptions; the four statues were designed and created by the American sculptor, Wheeler Williams (November 30th, 1897 – August 12th, 1972). Wreaths are placed at the foot of the wall by American associations and serving units and makes for a moving experience.
At the other end of the wall is the memorial and chapel. The inscription on the memorial says “Grant Unto Them O Lord Eternal Rest” and 5 pillars each inscribed with one year of the war 1941 – 1945, that the Americans were involved. A brass inscription over the entrance reads “Into Thy Hands O Lord” and opens up to a detailed and incredible room. The roof depicts a formation of bombers and their escorts typical of those that flew from airfields in England, on their way to occupied Europe. On the wall a large map illustrates “The Mastery of the Atlantic – The Great Air Assault”, in superb detail. Designed by Herbert Gate, the American Artist, it is thirty feet long and eighteen feet high and shows the routes used to transport men and machinery from the United States. It also shows Naval operations and the bombing routes used during the great battles over Europe.
Outside the chapel, along the length of the ‘Tablets of the Missing’, are rectangular pools and rose beds, neatly laid out as they should be. Lined by trees, it makes a serene place to walk.
Madingley Cemetery is a moving yet peaceful place to sit and remember, to pay homage and to give thanks to the many young men and women who came from another country, to give up their lives in the name of freedom and democracy.
In the words of the original Chairman, General John J. Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Force of the First World War:
“Time will not dim the Glory of Their Deeds”.
Madingley Cemetery can be visited freely, opening times and other details are available on their website here, from which many of the facts of this record have come.
The American Battles Monuments Commission also manages the Brookwood Cemetery in Woking, Surrey and their details can be found here.