After the Second World War, the US Government created twelve military cemeteries in Europe, to form the final resting place for US citizens who had died during the conflicts. The American Cemetery at Madingley is the only one of these in the British Isles. It occupies over thirty acres of land, donated by the University, overlooking quiet Cambridgeshire countryside.
Beautifully landscaped, it’s somewhere I would thoroughly recommend visiting. It’s all too easy not to visit significant sites such as this when you’re a local, but my Coton, Hardwick and Comberton cycle route passes by the back of the American Cemetery, and it’s easy to pop in at the start.
The grounds consist of 3812 graves arranged in a fan-shaped pattern, radiating out from a tall US flag near the front entrance. Each grave is marked either by a white marble cross or by a Star of David. Low hedges delimit the boundaries between segments of the fan, with gravel paths running between the arcs of gravestones and trees.
Alongside the cemetery are three narrow lakes, and beside these is a long wall, engraved with the names of over 5000 people missing in action or lost at sea. Every name represents someone’s son or daughter, father or mother, brother or sister—but one name may spark wider recognition. The plane of the jazz musician Glenn Miller disappeared one night in 1944, as he was on the way to perform for the soldiers who had liberated Paris. You’ll see his name in full as ‘Miller, Alton G.’.
At the end of the line of lakes is the official memorial building, containing a small chapel at one end. The main space of the building is dominated by a vast map of 1940s shipping lanes between the USA and the UK, with the location of many of the Allies’ key bombing targets throughout the war. The map is magnificent, and was drawn by David Kindersley—the designer of the great gates to the British Library.
Exploring this peaceful site, it’s easy to forget that you’re walking amongst the graves of thousands of young people who prematurely died in their early twenties or late teens. These were people who would otherwise have had the chance for many more years of love, fulfilment and excitement. The stupidity of war meant that they instead experienced pain and fear of a form that fortunately most of us will never know. Lest we forget…
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When you visit, you will probably struggle, like me, to find somewhere suitable to lock your bike. There are no cycle stands in the large carpark at the back, and the only stands at the front are of the form used to squeeze in your wheel only.
I’ll e-mail the superintendent to see if they might consider adding a few Sheffield stands at the back of the building—I eventually found a convenient out-of-the-way spot to lock my bike, behind a hut at the back of the site. There are also proper cycle stands a short way down the road, at the University’s 800 Woodland.