Since it happened more than 60 years ago, it is sometimes easy to forget the role American servicemen played in the defense of England during World War II. But the British haven’t forgotten, and they proudly display that loyalty in a variety of ways.
The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial is a classic example. Located in Cambridge, about 60 miles north of London, it was established as a temporary military cemetery in 1943 on land donated by the University of Cambridge. The site was later selected as the only permanent American WWII military cemetery in the Great Britain.
Now it is a silent tribute to American men and women who died while stationed at military bases in England. Row after row of white headstones sweep across the landscape in an arrangement similar to the memorials in northern France. There are 3,811 grave markers, each bearing the name and military assignment of the fallen warrior whose remains rest below.
One side of the memorial is lined with a 472-foot wall of Portland stone that was quarried on the south coast of England. It is called the Tablets of the Missing, and the names of 5,126 other military personnel who were declared lost at sea or missing in action are engraved in the stone. Four statues along the wall depict an American soldier, sailor, airman and Coast Guardsman.
The teakwood doors of the Memorial Building bear bronze models of such military equipment as tanks, howitzers and naval vessels. Inside, a large map depicts each location in England where a major American unit was stationed during the war. The map also shows the principal air and sea routes used to approach Normandy on D-Day.
A few miles away in Norwich, a portion of that bustling city’s new glass-walled Forum has been set aside to honor the 2nd Air Division, another group of American airmen who flew out of a nearby base. The library contains a vast collection of memorabilia and a state-of-the-art computer system helps find information about those who served.
One wall is lined with huge photographs of airmen; among them is a pilot easily recognizable by most American visitors – it’s Jimmy Stewart, the beloved American actor who flew out of a nearby air base for missions over Germany during the war. Elsewhere in the library, hundreds of books, photos and insignia reflect the time when American pilots risked everything to fend off a powerful enemy.
There were at least 12 air bases spread across Norfolk and Suffolk counties during the war. Only traces remain now. Some have been converted to commercial uses; others have been plowed under so they can be used for agriculture. But near the former entrances of each base, there stands a memorial plaque that tells some of the base’s individual history. They’re not easy to find, but locating them can be a pleasant day’s journey into northeastern England’s beautiful countryside.
For more information, contact www.visiteastofengland.com.