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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Madingley American Cemetery

Sometimes words seem so inadequate. They seem trite, mundane and, despite the tens of thousands in the English language, completely unequipped to describe an emotion, a moment, a place.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I went to Cambridge for the weekend. On a blisteringly hot Saturday afternoon we visited Madingley American Cemetery. Emily has been to the vast cemeteries in Northern France so I suppose she was partly prepared. I was not.

You cannot see anything of the cemetery from the road. You walk past the carved eagle emblem and
climb the wide, curving, pale stone steps.

At the top there is a tree-lined avenue.

 A thread of cool shelter. Maybe even a sanctuary for the wave of emotion which cannot fail to overwhelm you at the sight of all of those graves sweeping away in graceful curves to your left.

I have no connection with any of these people and yet I wanted to cry at the sight of their final resting place. Over 3,800 people who had sacrificed themselves for the freedom of my country and of Europe. Beyond this expanse of white crosses and Stars of David, sits the Memorial Building. Leading you towards it are lily strewn pools, bordered by brightly coloured flowers.
On the far wall are the Tablets of the Missing. The names, reverently carved, of five thousand, one hundred and twenty six people, missing in action, lost or buried at sea, from all corners of the United States.

And where the tree-lined avenue and the canal meet is the tallest flagpole I've ever seen, bearing the stars and stripes, blowing valiantly in the wind, even on this stillest of days.

The raised mound upon which it stands is surrounded by a circle of yellow roses.
At its foot are the wreaths of remembrance.

And around the bronze base these words from John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields:-

To you from failing hands
We throw the torch.
Be yours to hold it high

Although I felt full of sorrow for these lost lives, Madingley is not a sorrowful place. It is serene, reflective, respectful, beautiful in its simplicity. It acts as a reminder that life is a gift and not to be taken for granted. It is a reminder to be brave and good, to try to live our lives well and to think not just of ourselves but of others, as did all of these American servicemen. It is an encouragement to go away and hold our torches high. It seems to me to be the least we can do.

Thank-you all for reading and a special, heartfelt thanks to all of my American readers. May your week be a good one.


  1. I've not been to Madingley, but I have been to other cemeteries...near the sites of the D Day invasions, and in central France.
    Yes , you've captured the emotions I had as I walked around, and yes, it brought tears to my eyes thinking of the sacrifices that so many made.

    A lovely, if very emotional, post....

    1. Thanks Bridget. Not an easy visit but I'm glad I went.

  2. I think what makes your photo more emotional is the white crosses lined as if in a parade ground you can just imagine all those young soliers standing there instead of the crosses.

    1. Thanks for that Annie as I'm not the world's best photographer. Those crosses are all so clean and white despite some of them being under trees. They really do bring home the enormity of the sacrifice and yes you're right, they do conjure up images of brave soldiers on parade.