Tuesday, 7 July 2015


Back in 1962, when I was 18 years old, I was madly in love with an undergraduate at Pembroke College, Cambridge. On a couple of occasions, we went to the Eagle pub and the tales of young American airmen, stationed round Cambridge during World War 2, made a huge impression on me. Their names are there, and the pub nowadays makes a big deal, quite rightly, of the historical connection.

In 2010, when we moved to Cambridge after many years in Manchester, the American Cemetery was high on the list of places that my husband and I wanted to visit. His last illness and his death meant that he never saw this place, but the other day our friends Bob Borsley and Ewa Jaworska took me there and I wanted to write about it on this blog as a kind of tribute, both to those who are buried there and also as a kind of stand-in for my husband, Norman Geras, who would definitely have written about the visit on his blog, normblog  if he could have done.

The sun was shining on the day we were there. There are nearly 4000 individual markers,  each with a name, a rank and home state cut into the stone. The date of each death is there, but the dates of birth have been omitted. Most of the dead were in their twenties. 

On a long wall that stretches for yards, the names of the missing are inscribed. These are the people whose bodies were never recovered. 

There is a very interesting and well-organised exhibition in the visitors' centre, and I'm sure Cambridge schools visit it regularly. Around the Centre, a small area of the garden has been left to grow wild. The man we spoke to behind the desk told us that the gardeners in charge of the rest of the cemetery were a bit sniffy about this exception to the apple - pie order which prevails in the rest of this place 

Because that's the overriding impression. The lawns are beautiful: mown to absolute perfection. Every single memorial, every one that we saw, looks as though it went up yesterday: gleaming stone in a pristine state of shining whiteness. Not one single piece of litter, not one bird dropping, not one cigarette stub mars the landscape. We saw a man travelling between the graves on a motorised mower, but it must take many people all their time to keep the cemetery in this remarkable state.

It seemed to me that this clean and tidy and beautiful way of remembering the fallen was a loud and vigorous "ya boo sucks" to Death; a contrast to the blood and dirt and darkness of war. The tidiness of the cemetery is a counterbalance to the chaos of those years and it's clear that today's custodians feel a duty to maintain this and that's admirable. It's very hard to walk round without tears coming into your eyes. It's also worth remembering, alongside thinking about the dead, that many wars are still being waged. Sacrifices are still being made, and there are still freedoms that are worth fighting for.  This post goes up on the 10th  anniversary of the July 7th, 2005 terrorist atrocity in London and our thoughts should also be with those who died  that day and  those who mourn them. 


Sally Prue said...

That's very moving, Adele. Thank you. It's interesting that the dates of birth aren't recorded. That seems to commemorate the sacrifice and not the life: that on that day, this man, of this place did the most valuable thing possible.

Pippa Goodhart said...

It is a very moving place, and something that struck me as so absolutely right about it is that all the dead are given exactly the same memorial, whatever their rank or origin. We are all the same in death. Born within three miles of the American Cemetery, it took me over half a century before I visited it, feeling it was somehow morbid to go and visit dead who weren't personal to me. But I was wrong. It's a place for us all to go and think.
Thank you, Adele.

Karen Maitland said...

I was watching early this week the moving drama about one woman's struggle to come to terms with the murder of her daughter on 7/7. Two things in particular struck me from that and this lovely tribute of yours - The first was the agonising wait for confirmation of her daughter's death, which must have been the same agony for the families of all those listed as 'missing' in this cemetery. When do you finally give up hope and start to grieve? The second was the mother thinking of the children and grandchildren her daughter would never have, whose lives had been erased before they began. As you say, so many of these men were in their twenties, still to become fathers. Generations that will never be born. This was a timely reminder of a huge sacrifice. Thank you.

Debbie Watley said...

As one of the Americans who read your blog, I want to say thank you to the people of Great Britain for continuing to honor our soldiers.

Deb Watley

adele said...

Thanks so much for your comments!