Cambridge American Cemetery is located in the heart of the Cambridgeshire countryside. Set in over thirty acres of beautifully maintained gardens and lawns, the cemetery contains the remains of 3812 war dead from the world war two era. Every State of the Union is represented here including. In addition inscribed on the Tablets Of The Missing are the names of over 8000 American servicemen who lost their lives during the war but whose bodies were never recovered. The majority of those buried here were crew members of British based aircraft, however the bodies of some of those killed in North Africa, Normandy, the North Atlantic and various other places are also buried here.
The land that Madingley American Cemetery stands on was donated by the University of Cambridge and used as a temporary cemetery from 1943 onwards. In 1956 the site was dedicated as the only permanent World War Two American Military Cemetery in the United Kingdom.
The main entrance the site is set in the south east corner and compromises the visitors building containing the superintendents office and a visitors room where relatives may obtain information and sign the visitor's register. In front of the Visitors Centre lies the Great Mall with a flagpole at one end and a series of rectangular reflecting pools lined with rose beds stretching out towards the Memorial Building and Chapel at the far end. The flagpole stands seventy two feet high and the base is inscribed with a quotation from John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields" which reads: "To you from failing hands, we throw the torch - be yours to hold it high".
Running parallel to the reflecting pools of the Great Mall are the "Tablets of The Missing" A series of large tablets inscribed with the names of over eight thousand servicemen killed during the war but who's bodies were never recovered. The Tablets Of The Missing are guarded by four giant statues depicting A Sailor, A Soldier, An Aircrew man and a Coast Guard. The reflecting pools are bordered by polyantha roses and the north side of the Great Mall is lined with a single row of double-pink hawthorn trees.
The graves themselves are laid out in in the shape of a fan and are arranged in seven curved plots containing 3909 headstones. Each grave plot is enclosed by a boxwood hedge and decorated with various trees. The site affords extensive views over the sloping Cambridgeshire countryside and on a clear day it is possible to see Ely Cathedral.
Chapel & Museum Room
At the far end of the Mall the Memorial Building contains The Chapel and Museum room. The roof of the Memorial building is covered by a giant mosaic which depicts ghostly aircraft accompanied by angels as they fly towards the resurrection, depicted by he Arc Angel trumpet in hand which adorns the wall of the chapel.
The interior wall of the museum is covered with a large map entitled "The Mastery of the Atlantic -The Great Air Assault" and depicts the principal sea routes between the United States and the United Kingdom and shows the types of ships used to transport men and munitions from the United States. Also depicted are anti submarine and European bombing operation routes and aircraft types. The map is thirty feet long and eighteen feet high and was designed by the American artist Herbert Gate.
The side of the memorial facing the graves is embellished with glass panels depicting the seals of the states of the Union. The doors to the Memorial building are made from teakwood and attached to them are bronze medals depicting various types of military equipment and navel vessels used during world war two by United States forces.
New Cambridge American Cemetery Visitor Centre
In May 2014 a new, 4,000-square-foot center visitor center was opened. The visitor centre exhibits include personal stories, photographs, films, and interactive displays including the Battle of the Atlantic and Americans in Great Britain.
Memorial Day Service & Tribute
Each year Madingley American Cemetery pays tribute to those who died in the service of their country by hosting a memorial day service comprising of a wreath laying ceremony, music performed by a United States military band, a reading of the president's memorial day proclamation and various other activities that pay tribute to the men and women who gave their lives in the service of the United States.
The British weather can be unpredictable at best and often gives rise to inclement weather around the memorial day holiday period. 2008 was to be no exception with cold winds and heavy rain through much of the ceremony.
A United States Air Force guard of honour from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk presented arms during a rendition of Taps and later performed a 21 gun salute. Airmen presented wreaths to veterans and their families. More than 110 associations attended and laid wreaths in tribute to the fallen.
This year a fly past by a KC135 tanker belonging to the 351st Air Refueling Squadron from RAF Mildenhall and F15E Strike Eagles of the 494th Fighter Squadron based at RAF Lakenheath paid tribute to the fallen with fly pasts including a missing man formation by the F15's.
other aircraft to perform fly-by's included a B25 Mitchell and the locally restored B17 bomber nicknamed the "Sally B". The Sally B is based at nearby Duxford Air museum which also plays host to the American air museum which house a substantial collection of World War 2 and modern aircraft including another B17, a SR71 Blackbird and a B52 Bomber. Visitors to Madingley American Cemetery may well wish to visit Duxford and the American air museum as Duxford airfield is approximately 20 minutes drive from Madingley via the M11 motorway. Directions to Duxford can be found here.
The "Sally B" is the last remaining air worthy B17 bomber in the United Kingdom, based at Duxford she is a frequent visitor to air shows both in the United Kingdom and abroad. The "Sally B" performed a staring role in the film "Memphis Belle" a story loosely based on the real Memphis Belle which became the first US Bomber to complete twenty five missions over Europe and return to the United States. The Sally B is independently operated and relies on sponsorship and donations to keep her flying.
Joseph Kennedy Junior
Each Memorial Day airmen from RAF Lakenheath or RAF Mildenhall prepare to lay wreaths. They stand in front of the tablets of the missing which are inscribed with the names five thousand one hundred and twenty six of those missing in action, lost or buried at sea during World War 2. The Tablets Of The Missing include the names of the legendary band leader and Jazz musician Alton Glen Miller and Joseph P Kennedy, Jr. older brother of future president John F Kennedy. Although Kennedy had completed twenty five combat missions and was entitled to return home he volunteered for an Operation Aphrodite mission and was killed in an accidental explosion over England.
Glen Miller's aircraft disappeared over the English Channel while en route to Paris to perform for soldiers who had recently liberated Paris. Neither his body nor the wreckage of the plane have ever been found.
Opposite the USAF honor guard from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk fire a 21 one gun salute in honour od the fallen, during the memorial day ceremony in 2004. The military bugle call Taps is being played while the twenty one gun salute is fired. The playing of Taps is a traditional part of United States military funerals, wreath laying and memorial services. The music for Taps was adapted by Union General Daniel Butterfield and was used as a "Lights Out" bugle call to signal the end of the day. It's use was quickly copied by other Union Army units and after the war became the official Bugle Call. Although somewhat similar to the British "Last Post" Taps use is Unique to the United States armed forces. The short but moving twenty four notes of Taps remains one of America's most recognizable and eloquent military bugle calls. The words to Taps are "Day Is Done, Gone The Sun, From The Lakes, From The Hills, All Is Well, Safely Rest, God Is Nigh."