Despite having lived in Cambridge for 15 years, I’d never visited the American War Cemetery. I’d thought about it but felt a bit strange to be honest – was it appropriate to go and visit? And then I saw Nickie O’Hara had visited Auschwitz. The way she described her experience made me want to go and visit it myself. Learning about the experiences of others and the events that have shaped the world is important so when half term came, I figured it was time to visit the War Cemetery right on my doorstep.
Come the Wednesday of half term, we were getting twitchy so the boys and I, with my Mum, got in the car and went to the Cemetery not really knowing what to expect. We didn’t choose the best day for it really – it was cold, wet and windy so we couldn’t really stand outside for that long. We went in, looked at the very long wall of names (more on that later) and then had a walk around the graves themselves. It sounds macabre I know, but it was an incredible space to be in. Peaceful, beautiful, orderly and so very well kept that it felt wrong to me that I’d not ventured there before.
Having a teen and tween with me meant I needed to keep moving. So we had a brief walk around the graves and then moved back to the wall, where we realised that the 5,000 plus names in front of us were not actually representing the 3,800 graves around us.
The names on the wall are the additional names of the American lives lost on the land, in the sea and in the air in the Atlantic Ocean and in and around the British Isles during the war. Seeing the graves and appreciating the the names on the wall more than double the total was a huge moment for all of us. There was even a name there of someone on the wall who had the Medal of Honor.
From there we went to the Visitors Centre. It’s a small building, to the left of the main entrance. Despite its size, it was really well laid out with lots of space and a strong mix of video, audio and visual stories – and some great interactive exhibits. We thought that the timeline of events through the war, that impacted the entire world, was particularly strong. It could be viewed as a timeline or by year with markers across the globe. And even better, we could continue learning about it once we had gotten home because it’s continued and extended on the AMBC website.
We were offered a free booklet that we could complete on site or start there and finish at home. We started it and have been doing research since, to finish it off.
I always find it incredible to see our children actively learning – bringing things together, making puzzle pieces fit.
There was another level of experience happening at the same time though – our newly anointed teenager came to me and said there was something he’d noticed, but he didn’t want to say it, in case it was inappropriate. I told him to tell me quietly. He’d noticed that of the 40 or so people whose stories were being told, there was only one person of colour and one woman. He felt this must have been an inaccurate representation of those who gave their lives and battled on behalf of the USA to keep us all safe. He wanted to know why this had happened. I said we’d come home and look into it together as research.
This brings me to an interesting point. The American War Cemetery is located in Madingley, Cambridge. The whole Cemetery is immaculate and very well kept indeed. Everything is done really well. Practically speaking, there’s parking for maybe 50 cars at most. There are toilets for all and everything is geared up for disabled access.
What there isn’t, is a cafe. But that’s ok because two minutes drive away is Coton Garden Centre, which has a cafe selling everything from coffee and cake to full meals for lunch. There’s even an afternoon tea available. It’s not particualrly cheap but it is lovely food. It cost £40 for two ham, egg and chips, one jacket potato and beans, and one pizza, with three drinks alongside. There’s plenty of free parking and it’s children friendly. I recommend it as a place to go and chat about your visit to the American War Cemetery.
The other great thing about the Cemetery is the Cambridge War Cemetery app which you can download for free. It’s another great example of how much pride American’s have in their country and the people who have served it. You can map a short or long route around the grounds with it and there’s lots of additional info on it for all types of visitors. The website is also useful – especially if you’re going there to visit the grave of someone in particular.
I appreciate that visiting a War Cemetery isn’t the first place you might think of when you’re deciding on a morning or afternoon out with the kids. But if you watch some youtube beforehand, download the app and go for a drink and a cake to fill the booklet in afterwards, I think you’ll come away feeling really good about. There’s education, fresh air and conversations starters aplenty – for you and your troop. We’ll be going back as soon as the weather improves!
This is not a sponsored, paid for or gifted post.