This January I made a big change: I left sunny (and financially ruined) Greece to live in the U.K., specifically, the city of Cambridge.
The city is beautiful and very different to what I’ve been use to. Nature surrounds you here: ten minutes outside of the city center and you see foxes and deer. In the city center proper, the occasional squirrel is present. Ravens, magpies, mallards, blackbirds and swans are your constant companions during walks in the city’s beautiful parks and on the banks of the river Cam traversing the city.
To a history nut though like me, the largest attraction is the city’s past: to say Cambridge has a rich history would be an understatement. From the University that operates continuously for more than eight hundred years, to thousand-year-old Norman churches and villages with Latin names put on the map since antiquity and the Roman conquest of Albion.
Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, Lord Tennyson and Charles Darwin are only a few of the people who lived here. One can only wonder while walking the cobbled streets if, unbeknownst to you, you happen to be walking the same paths as they had.
Besides the academic and cultural history, there is a colorful and celebrated military history, which is memorialized along with the city’s civic accomplishments — which you are here to read about, no doubt.
The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial is the last resting place of some of the brave men and women that crossed the Atlantic to fight the Nazi war machine during WWII. Within its 30 acres are the graves of 3,809 Americans that died in WWII; engraved on a limestone wall on one side of the cemetery are the names of 5,126 more — missing in action, lost or buried at sea, or unknowns whose remains could not be identified. Among them is the Medal of Honor recipient Leon Robert “Bob” Vance Jr. and the musician Glenn Miller, both of whom were lost at sea.
The chapel is both beautiful and reverential. On the chapel’s stained glass are the seals of every state in the U.S., reminding the visitor where those they came to honor came from.
My visit there was emotional — consciously, you may understand in an abstract way what it took to bring Nazi Germany down. Being there, however, the magnitude of the sacrifice made by these people hits you right in the face and you stand in awe at the immensity of that sacrifice.
Nestled in the narrow city streets, you can find Eagle Pub, a favorite meeting place for aircrews stationed in nearby airports during WWII. The ceiling of the pub is full of messages written by pilots with the use of candles and the walls are adorned with WWII era photos left by the pub’s patrons and patches of squadrons from all over the world.
The cherry on top of all of this is that Cambridgeshire is also the home of the Imperial War Museum Duxford.
Duxford was a RAF airport and played a vital role during the Battle of Britain. The Polish and British pilots stationed there, scrambled time and again against German aircraft. It was also the testing ground for the big wing tactic proposed by Trafford Leigh-Mallory — simply put, big wings were large formations of aircraft instead of the more common approach, at the time, of using individual squadrons. Historians and strategists still debate the effectiveness of both approaches.
Prewar, Flight Lieutenant Frank Whittle was flying from Duxford with the Cambridge University Air Squadron. Whittle developed the jet turbine that resulted in the only allied operational jet in WWII, the Gloster Meteor.
In 1943 it became home to American fighter squadrons — P51s and P47s stationed there escorted B17s that participated in the operations for the preparation of Operation Overlord (Operation Argument) and supported Operation Varsity.
Duxford was an operational airport until 1961. The ministry of defense declared it a surplus site, and the Imperial War Museum asked for permission to transfer part of its collection – mainly the large vehicles – there in 1969. The whole airport was transferred to the museum in 1976 but the airshows that are the main attraction and crowd-pleaser began in 1972.
Most of the hangars are in constant use since 1918, and 31 of the buildings have listed status: the hangars, the original operations room from WWII, the control tower and others. At the parking and entrance of the museum, a Hawker Hurricane stands in eternal vigilance alongside a Comet tank.
I will let my photos do most of the speaking. I must point out though that the museum is huge, 8 hangars full of stuff: aircraft, land vehicles and two-unit museums; One for the Royal Anglian Regiment and the second one, named Airborne Assault for the Parachute Regiment. My sample pictures don’t do the place justice Next time you find yourself to the U.K. make sure that you get to check the one-hour trip to Cambridge off of your bucket list.
All images courtesy of the author