Moving project scheduled for Cambridge cemetery over bank holiday
The largest project of its kind in Britain will culminate over the bank holiday weekend when almost 4,000 photographs are placed on gravestones at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial at Madingley.
The ‘Faces of Cambridge’ project – the brainchild of cemetery associate Tracey Haylock and facilities manager Les Turner – honours the 3,812 US servicemen and women, including airmen who died over Europe and sailors from North Atlantic convoys, whose remains lie beneath the 3,809 headstones.
It has exceeded their wildest dreams, with photos and stories turning up from across the globe.
They, along with a host of volunteers, will put the pictures on the relevant headstones and on the cemetery’s Wall of the Missing – which records the names of 5,127 missing servicemen, most of whom died in the Battle of the Atlantic or in the strategic air bombardment of north-west Europe – in time for the Whitsun bank holiday weekend of May 27-28.
It forms part of the 75th anniversary of the ‘Friendly Invasion’, when American wartime troops, sailors and airmen poured into this country.
The project began last June. The Madingley duo have been astonished and moved by the photo response, which, together with some stories, will give visitors a poignant insight into the lives of many of the young men and women who gave their lives.
Ms Haylock said: “We put a couple of photos out last year, just to see what the interest was, and I was quite surprised at the amount of people taking photos of that one headstone with the one photo on it.
“So I said to Les that it would be amazing if we could put photos to as many names as possible. So we set off on a quest – and it’s been an emotional rollercoaster ride.
“I thought we might get 1,500 pictures. We’ve exceeded our expectations. It’s been absolutely overwhelming for us.
“We don’t just have airmen, we’ve got children as well. If they died of illness and their dad was American, they were buried here.
“We have civilians, too, and 17 women. Millions of Americans passed through England on their way to fight in Europe.
“The story that resonates most with me is the one about the Red Cross lady, who might have been a bit clandestine. She was pushed out of a second-storey building in London and murdered. Les started doing some research and found out that she travelled extensively and was arrested in Japan in 1940 as a spy.
“There have been times when we had to put things away for a few days. I feel as though I know a lot of these young men. They all had dreams and expected to survive the war. They all had lives, and this is what people forget. Their stories deserve to be told because if it hadn’t been for them we wouldn’t be here today.
“All 3,812 headstones are cleaned three times a week. We put sand from Normandy beaches in the inscriptions because that was the mission and most visitors are touched by that.
“The most important people that come here are the next of kin. It’s very emotional for a lot of them.”
Mr Turner added: “This project is the largest anywhere in Britain and it is very powerful. There are times when we have had to put everything away because we just can’t look at it any more.
“Emotionally they were so young. Some of the kids were 19 and they went through hell. We have come very close to tears on occasions. Some would be in Europe for three months before they were killed.
“This memorial site is full of young life, although it is a cemetery. We’re very proud to be able to tell visitors some of those stories.”