There are many excellent and fitting memorials around the country dedicated to Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force 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.
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 Commissions 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, detailing 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 G. Miller and Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jnr. (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 sculpture 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 is a delightful 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.
The American Battles Monuments Commission also manages the Brookwood Cemetery in Woking, Surrey and their details can be found here.
RAF Bomber Command – Green Park, London
The Bomber Command memorial was erected in honour of the 55,573 crew members of the RAF Bomber Command who died during the Second World War. It stands as a reminder of the young men, whose average age was only 22, and who never returned to their beloved homes. It was unveiled by the Queen, on June 28th 2012, when a Lancaster bomber of the BBMF flew over dropping thousands of poppies.
The monument can be found in London adjacent to Green Park. It stands proudly watching over the grassed picnic area where picnickers, shoppers and tourists sit. The main part of the monument is a bronze sculpture consisting of seven members of a typical bomber command aircrew.
Perhaps not obviously noticed, some of the crew are looking to the sky, some with hands to shield from the morning sun, as if looking for missing friends. Others are looking downward, perhaps in despair or fear for those not yet home. The stance of the statues suggests a crew recently returned from a mission who have just disembarked from their damaged aircraft. Tired, bewildered and overwhelmed by what they have witnessed, they have been created in precise and superb detail.
The Pilot stands central and to the rear of the group; the navigator to the left, followed by the flight engineer, mid-upper gunner, bomb aimer, rear gunner and then the wireless operator to the right. Their faces reflecting the feelings and emotions that these young men felt. The base of the statues were ‘littered’ with photos of loved ones and messages from around the world. A moving tribute.
Outside and on the walls of the memorial, are two crests; on the left, the RAF crest “Per Ardua ad Astra” meaning “Through adversity to the Stars“. The crest has its origins going back to August 1st 1918 and has been the symbol of the RAF ever since. On the right, is the crest of Bomber Command whose motto is “Strike Hard, Strike Sure“. Both beautifully carved into the undoubtedly beautiful Portland Stone.
A number of quotes, including one from Winston Churchill, “The Fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory” surround the memorial giving it strength. A further quote, to the rear of the memorial reflects the losses of all nations, who on the ground, lost lives as a result of bombing campaigns on both sides – a reflection of reconciliation and peaceful times ahead.
The roof above the memorial is open. This allows you to see the figures against a backdrop of sky, whether at day or night, rather than the bustling city behind. A view more representative of the times they lived and flew in.
The remainder of the roof is similar to the kriss cross design of the Vickers Wellington, one of the RAF’s bombers during World War II. The design is both eye-catching and unique, not only to the memorial but the Wellington from which it came.
The building of the memorial, which is truly a mix of emotion, international representation, and a build that reflects the lives of those affected by the war, is considered as closure for many; a symbol of what the young crews had to endure on long missions over occupied Europe. It also serves to act as a lesson to the those who were too young to know what the war meant to those who fought and died in it. It is A beautiful place to sit and give thanks to those 55,573 brave young men who never lived to experience peacetime again.
The official Bomber Command Memorial website is here. An app is also available for a small fee that goes part way to supporting the maintenance of the memorial, it gives greater detail to the construction and design of the memorial, along with an audio script and stories from survivors of Bomber Command.
A history of the RAF Crest and its derivations can be found by clicking here.
By clicking here, you can see and hear some stories of those to whom the monument is honouring.
“The Fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory“
Winston Churchill, 1940
Royal Air Force Memorial, Embankment, London.
The Royal Air Force memorial is located on the banks of London’s River Thames, between Embankment and Westminster tube stations.
Overlooking the river, it was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, sculpted by William Reid Dick, and completed on 13th July 1923.
The memorial consists of a bronze globe on which stands a gilded eagle with its wings spread as if about to take off. The main tapering column is of Portland stone and this forms the official Royal Air Force memorial.
The initial idea for a memorial was raised by Maj.Gen.J.M.Salmond, in a letter to the Air Ministry on 27th November 1918. Following this a committee was set up and discussions continued around the raising of funds and more importantly, how it should be spent. The leads in this committee were Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard and Lord Hugh Cecil. Eventually, on 21st January 1920, an appeal was launched with an article in the Times newspaper and the money gradually gathered.
There then followed many discussions about a suitable location for the memorial and eventually, the current location was agreed and permission given for its erection. The Architect, Sir Reginald Blomfield, decided upon William Reid Dick as the sculptor, plans were drawn up and building work started.
It wasn’t until 16th July 1923, that the memorial would be both finished and unveiled. In the presence of Sir Hugh Trenchard, and many other dignitaries, the Prince of Wales gave a moving speech highlighting the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in this new form of warfare.
Following the Second World War, further inscriptions were added and the updated memorial unveiled by Lord Trenchard on Battle of Britain Sunday, 15th September 1946. The tradition of placing a pilot’s brevet shaped wreath at its base has continued ever since.
There are a number of inscriptions around the column and base, each one referring to the dedication and loss of the men and women from the entire British commonwealth who gave their lives in both World Wars.
Even on a wet winters day, this is a stunning memorial and a beautiful tribute to those brave people.
For more information about its history click here. A pdf is available.
Fleet Air Arm Memorial, Embankment, London.
The Fleet Air Arm memorial, on the banks of the Thames, is one of many that stand together at this spot. The Battle of Britain, the Korean War and Royal Air Force memorials all being in very close proximity, outside the Ministry of Defence building in Victoria Embankment Gardens.
Forming one of many Fleet Air Arm memorials across the country, it joins others such as those at that the National Memorial Arboretum and Lee on Solent.
A more modest memorial, this one was designed by the architect James Butler RA, who has created a number of other statues and monuments in and around London. Initially, it looks like an angel, but is said to resemble Daedalus, the Greek inventor, father to Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and fell to his death.
The statue, which was unveiled on the 1st of June 2000 by his Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, stands looking down, perhaps Daedalus as if watching his son fall from the skies.
Crafted with a pilot’s body and flying suit, but with the bare arms of a ‘God’, it wears a fallen oxygen mask that reveals a face with a look of horror, as if witnessing some awful event beneath.
The winged guardian stands on a single stone column that protrudes from a boat-like base, around which are engraved the many conflicts and battles that the Fleet Air Arm have been involved in. Ranging from 1914 right up to modern conflicts such as the Falklands and the Gulf War, it shows how important the Fleet Air Arm has been to both the safety of this nation and world peace in general.
There are a number of other inscriptions around this boat like base. On the front, in gilded letters, are the words ‘Fleet Air Arm’, with the crested insignia and on the side:
‘To the everlasting memory of all the men and women from the United Kingdom the British Commonwealth and the many Allied Nations who have given their lives whilst serving in the Royal Naval Air Service and the Fleet Air Arm’.
Also on the base is a quote from Psalm 18:10, “He rode upon a cherub and did fly yea he did fly upon the wings of the wind”.
One of many memorials standing here, the Fleet Air Arm winged guardian, watches closely over the crowds below, standing as a beautiful tribute to those who gave their lives and whose bodies now rest in the deep waters of the worlds oceans.
Battle of Britain Memorial
A recent revisit took me back to the Battle of Britain memorial at Capel-le-Ferne between Folkestone and Dover, in Kent. It sits high on the cliff-top, in a windy corner, a stones throw from the international docks at Dover, and the Battle of Britain airfield at Hawkinge. A ‘recent’ addition to the range of British memorials, it is a poignant reminder of the young men who, from many nationalities, gave their lives in the name of freedom and defence of this country.
Last time I was here, work was starting on the new visitor centre and the two replica aircraft, a Spitfire and Hurricane, had both been removed.
This week, on May 25th 2015, I went back to see what had been done.
The new centre is superb. First of all it has a good car park with ample space for a large number of cars.
The visitors centre itself has a bright open reception area and a small shop for souvenirs (I had to buy a book!) and upstairs a new cafe with a balcony overlooking the monument and across the English Channel to France.
Entrance to the memorial is still free, but there is the option to try the ‘scramble’ experience, which I believe costs £6.00.
The Spitfire and Hurricane are both back, admittedly both are metal replicas and good ones at that, but up here it gets very windy and the weather can change dramatically in seconds, so it’s probably for the best.
The carved Pilot, sitting in the centre of a three-bladed propeller, gazes patiently out to sea, watching for his missing friends. Designed by Harry Gray of the Carving Workshop, Cambridge, the pilot is surrounded by the badges of those squadrons who took part in the famous battle over the Kent skies.
To either side, two large mounds, signify the locations of anti-aircraft batteries, now silent and filled in, perhaps two replica emplacements might add to the ‘feel’ of the site, although sometimes less is more.
As before, the monument is a quiet and moving place to sit; to read the names of those who gave their lives for us, and to absorb yourself in the battle through the numerous information panels around the site. From here you begin to imagine the vapour and smoke trails high above you and to think that Hitler and his invasion forces, stood not more than 30 miles away in the distant haze on the coast of France.
A big improvement to a very moving place.
Further details of the site can be found here.
Battle of Britain Memorial, Embankment, London.
In this the 75th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, it is rather apt to include a mention of a further part of a Trail of major memorials. Another found in London outside the Ministry of Defence Building on the Northern Embankment, is that of the Battle of Britain.
Sculpted by Paul Day, work on the site began in February 2005 with erection of a 82ft long granite base, in two parts, on which to stand the bronze sculpture. Created initially in wax, the sculptures were cast in bronze by Morris Singer in sections, each section depicting a scene relating to the Battle. The memorial was finally opened by HRH the Prince of Wales on 18th September 2005.
The main and most significant section shows pilots as they ‘scramble’ to their waiting aircraft. Around this, are scenes referring to the women who helped not only in the factories and munitions works, but those who ferried the vital aircraft to their airfields. Other scenes depict: workers in a slit trench watching the battle rage overhead, the gunners defending the airfield, a dogfight, observers, mechanics and fitters all of whom worked tireless to keep the damaged aircraft flying. Further depictions show pilots at rest, drinking tea and relaxing telling tales of heroism and narrow escapes. A prominent picture that came out of the battle and the following blitz, was that of Saint Paul’s Cathedral standing proud of the smoke as all London burns around it. This too has been immortalised in bronze on another of the 14 scenes.
The detail of each panel is incredible. The emotion behind the eyes of those depicted grabs the passer-by and holds them, captured momentarily in time.
The entire battle is described through these characters, the romantic idea of the battle as seen by the farm workers, the joy of a victory from returning crews, the tiredness after yet another sortie, and the fear as they run not knowing if this were to be a one way journey.
Around the scenes are the 2,937 names of the airmen who took part in Battle. As many records from the day were inaccurate, mislaid or destroyed it had to be decided upon what criteria would be set in order to ‘qualify’ for a listing. This was that the pilot had to have flown between 10th July and 31st October 1940 and to have been awarded the Battle of Britain Clasp after flying at least one operational sortie in one of the recognised squadrons. A daunting task that took many hours of reading and research but was eventually completed and finalised as the 2,937 that appear today.
There are 15 countries listed, covering 544 pilots who died during the battle and 795 who were to die by the end of the war. Interestingly, there is no Israeli mention, yet in the 1969 film made famous by its incredible cast, an Israeli pilot is mentioned. Perhaps this is due to the criteria used or inaccuracies in records used by the film.
Winston Churchill’s immortalised words ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’ are etched into the base of the memorial bringing the entire structure to life.
The detail on this memorial is incredible, just glance and you’ll miss it. The way each scene is depicted in great detail even down to the ruffles in the clothing, the emotion behind the eyes and the position of the various people, it is an awe-inspiring memorial that proudly and aptly reflects those who gave so much for so many.
The memorial is found on the Victoria Embankment opposite the London Eye to the East of Westminster Bridge.
The Korean War Memorial, Victoria Embankment, London.
On July 27th 1953, the Korean War, a very much ‘forgotten’ war, came to an end. For over 50 years, the 81,084 British Troops who were sent there feel they have had little official recognition from the authorities or public.
However, on the 3rd December 2014, 320 veterans and 180 other guests, watched as HRH the Duke of Gloucester unveiled a new memorial on the Embankment next to the Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm and Battle of Britain memorials.
The memorial, which was a gift from the Republic of Korea in honour of the British Troops sent there, stands six metres high and was carved by Philip Jackson – famed for carvings of Sports personalities, artists and the Gurkha Memorial. It shows a Bronze statue of a soldier, head bowed, standing on a base of Welsh Slate in front of an obelisk of Portland Stone. Dressed in winter wear, the statue reflects the tiredness of constant rain, and the never-ending battle against both a determined enemy and the elements.
Behind the weary soldier are several carvings, including a mountainous landscape representing Korea’s environment, along with a number of inscriptions. On the base, to the front, reads (in both English and Korean)
“With gratitude for the sacrifice made by the British Armed Forces in defence of freedom and democracy in the Republic of Korea.”
To the North side of the memorial is a further inscription:
“The Korean War was the first UN action against aggression. The UN forces that fought the North Korean invasion were drawn from 21 countries. Although exhausted and impoverished after the Second World War, Britain responded immediately by providing strong naval, army and air forces and became the second largest contributor after the United States. A distant obligation honourably discharged.”
On the south side of the obelisk, below the Union Flag, it reads:
“In this fierce and brutal conflict those who fought included many Second World War veterans reinforced by reservists and young national servicemen. The land battle was fought against numerically superior communist forces, the terrain was mountainous and the weather extreme. 81,084 British servicemen served in the theatre of operations. 1,106 were killed in action, thousands were wounded and 1,060 suffered as prisoners of war.”
The Korean War was the first UN action and took troops from 21 different countries, many of whom had only just started to recover from the Second World War. For their action, two British Soldiers were awarded the highest military honour – the Victoria Cross – but yet despite this, it still remains very much a ‘forgotten war’.
Much of the fighting took place around the 38th Parallel, a point that once stabilised, became not only the border between North and South Korea, but the Russians and the West in what would be a long and at times trying Cold War.
The memorial stands facing the Thames, amongst a number of other memorials outside the Ministry of Defence building on the north embankment and forms a group of Korean memorials. These include a plaque in the crypt of St Paul’s, and two other memorials in the National Arboretum in Staffordshire and in Bathgate, Scotland.
This memorial stands as a reminder of a short war, but for those who took part, it is a timely reminder of the sacrifice that they and their colleagues made.
The unveiling of the memorial.
A website dedicated to the Korean War Veterans can be found here.
St. Clement Danes Church – London
If you are in London, maybe taking in a show or visiting one of the many museums London has to offer, perhaps visiting the RAF Museum at Hendon or as I was, the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, this is an ideal place to stop off and take time out. Its stained outer walls and hectic surroundings hint at nothing inside this remarkable building.
St. Clement Danes church stands almost oddly in the centre of London in the Strand, surrounded on all sides by traffic; like an island it offers sanctuary and peace yet its history is far from peaceful.
It reputedly dates back to the Ninth Century AD following the expulsion of the Danes from the City of London, in the late 870s, by King Alfred. As a gesture, he allowed Danes who had English wives to remain nearby, allowing them to dedicate the local church to St. Clement of the Danes. Ever since this time, a church has remained, albeit in part, on this very site.
In the 1300s and then again in the late 1600s it was rebuilt, the second time influenced by the great Sir Christopher Wren – notable for his designs of buildings both in and outside of London. Regarded as being Britain’s most influential architect of all time, he designed many famous buildings such as the Library at Trinity College and the Royal Hospital at Chelsea. Wren also redesigned both Kensington and Hampton Court Palaces – his influences stretched far and wide.
Of course Wren’s ultimate master-piece was St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, a structure that reflected both his skill, vision and personality.
During the Great Fire of London in 1666, eighty-seven churches were destroyed in London, but only fifty-two were subsequently rebuilt. Whilst not directly damaged by the fire, St. Clement Danes was included in that list due to its very poor condition and Wren was invited to undertake the huge task.
It then stood just short of 300 years before incendiary bombs of the Luftwaffe destroyed it in May 1941. Leaving nothing but a few walls and the tower, Wren’s design had been reduced to ashes and rubble.
For over ten years it lay in ruins, until it was decided to raise funds and rebuild it. In 1958, following a national appeal by the Royal Air Force, St. Clement Danes was officially opened and dedicated as the Central Church of the Royal Air Force in memory of all those who fought and died whilst in RAF service, and to ‘serve as a perpetual shrine of remembrance’ to them all.
In completing the restoration, every branch of the RAF was included. At the entrance of the church, is the rosette of the Commonwealth made up of all the Air Forces badges of the Commonwealth countries, each of which flew with RAF crews during the conflicts. Beyond the rosette, the floor from the north aisle to the south aisle of the Nave contains nearly 900 squadron badges each one made in Welsh Slate and embedded into the floor.
Around the walls of the church, four on each side and two to the front, are ten Books of Remembrance from 1915 to the present day, in which are listed 150,000 names of those who died whilst in RAF service. A further book on the west wall, contains a further 16,000 names of USAAF personnel killed whilst based in the United Kingdom during the Second World War.
On either side of the Altar, are boards and badges dedicated to every branch of the RAF. Two boards list the names of those who were awarded the Victoria Cross and others the George Cross. Other slate badges represent the various units to serve and support the main fighter and bomber groups, including: RAF Training units, Fighter Control units, Maintenance units, University Air Squadrons, Medical units, Communication squadrons, Groups, Colleges and Sectors.
In the North Aisle, a further memorial, also embedded into the floor, remembers those who escaped the Nazi tyranny in Poland and joined the RAF to carry on the fight during World War II. Each Polish Squadron is represented in a beautifully designed memorial around which is written:
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course’ I have kept the faith”
Smaller dedications can also be found around the church, such as the Mosquito Aircrew Association, dedicated to both air and ground crews of the mighty ‘Wooden-Wonder’. Some of these memorials are in the form of gifts of thanks many of which come from other nations as their own tribute to those who came from so far away to give their lives in the name of freedom and democracy.
So next time you’re in London, take time out from the hustle and bustle of the West-end, make your way to the Strand ( a fifteen minute bus journey from the IWM) and visit this peaceful retreat.
St. Clement Danes is open every day to the public, so that those who gave the ultimate sacrifice may live on for eternity.