398th Bomb Group

England’s intellectual city combines
history with academics and ties to America

By Gail Fisher
August 13, 2000

Gail Fisher, a 2nd generation 398th Memorial Association member, wrote the following article that appeared in the Travel section of the East Valley Tribune newspaper based in Mesa, Arizona, on August 13, 2000. The Cambridge story appeared along with her “Veterans Gather to Remember Nuthampstead” story. She is the daughter of Fran and Bill Fisher, a former 398th 603 Squadron B-17 pilot.

Walking around Cambridge, where the likes of Oliver Cromwell, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, John Harvard, and Charles, Prince of Wales, once walked, it’s difficult to tell where the 800-year-old town and legendary University of Cambridge begin and end.

The two are inextricably intertwined as ‘town and gown’ meld into a mix of academic tradition, architectural heritage, museums, open spaces, bookstores, shops, pubs and some interesting connections to America. There is plenty to explore in Cambridge and its surroundings.

The Colleges
A walk north along Trumpington Street leads you into the old town center and colleges. You’ll pass the 1473 St. Catherine’s College on your left surrounded by a handsome wrought iron gate. At this point, Trumpington Street becomes King’s Parade and the imposing nineteenth-century stone screen and gatehouse of King’s College, dating from 1441, rises dramatically. If the gate is open, you can go into the college.

If you only have time to visit just one of the 31 colleges in the University of Cambridge, see the King’s College Chapel, said to be the last and finest Gothic building erected in Europe. Completed in 1547, it took over a century to build.

The famous King’s College all male choir--16 choristers who attend King’s College Choir School and 14 choral scholars from the college--is best known for its Carols on Christmas Eve program broadcast world-wide. Services are sung by King’s College Choir on Tuesdays to Sundays, and on Mondays by the College’s mixed-voice choir, King’s Voices. Check the postings outside the chapel. There is often an admission charge, but admission to rehearsals is free. Lines form early for the free concerts.

Cambridge undergraduates number over 11,000 students with another 4,500 graduate students representing over 100 countries from outside the United Kingdom. The various colleges are essentially ‘homes’ for their students providing lodging, dining tables, a library, a chapel and social activities. Students ‘read’ their subjects at various colleges within the university.

Some colleges charge admission for visitors and are only open at certain posted times. From mid-April to mid-June, during examination period, most are closed to visitors. After exams, the May balls are held in June.

Some of the colleges host all night dancing, entertainment, elaborate food and champagne to mark the end of the students’ three-year degree course. Don’t be surprised to find students in tux and formal gowns roaming Cambridge streets or punting on the River Cam if you visit in June.

There are said to be some 35,000 bicycles in Cambridge and these cyclists move swiftly around pedestrians. Students, who are not allowed to have cars, cycle to and from lectures. Traffic is heaviest before ten in the morning and after four in the afternoon.

The Town Center
On the east side of King’s Parade, the city’s best known thoroughfare, are fine clothing shops, galleries, bookstores, and a teddy-bear shop. Ryder & Amies, a university outfitters store, lists the names of students chosen for various university teams in its windows.

Fitzbillies, also located on King’s Parade, is often marked by a line stretching out the door to buy their pastries, fruitcakes and specialty cakes. They are best known for their Chelsea buns, a pastry with a sticky, rich, spicy and syrupy topping that goes well with coffee or tea.

Historically, Cambridge was a market town and its 800-year-old market still exits to the east of Great St. Mary’s Church on King’s Parade. Fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, cheese, flowers, second-hand books, ethnic goods, small antiques, new and used clothes, painting, souvenirs and Cambridge T-shirts are sold in this popular, open-air market. Other streets radiate from the market square selling more specialty goods.

Trinity Street begins where King’s Parade ends and is one of the most attractive streets in Cambridge. The Cambridge University Press bookstore is located here where books have been sold since 1581. Cambridge is loaded with new, second-hand and antiquarian bookstores.

What is called the ‘Backs’ of Cambridge gradually developed since the sixteenth century when the riverside colleges began to reclaim land along the banks of the Cam River. Today it’s a combination of lawns, gardens, weeping willows and grazing cows with paths for long walks.

Punts are flat-bottomed boats propelled by pushing a long pole into the river-bed. Punting is traditional with students and tourists. Punts can be rented at the Mill Pool along with row boats and canoes, and some self-propelled and ‘chauffeured’ punts are also available.

While I was in Cambridge, beautiful sunny days brought hundreds to the Mill Pool area on Silver Street west of Trumpington. Families picnicked from wicker baskets on the greens and the river was full of punts, row boats and canoes. The river traffic looked serene until several students drew out jumbo-sized squirt guns, took aim at each other, and quickly dispelled any idyllic mood.

Restaurants and Pubs
Cambridge is full of small, intimate restaurants serving English, French, Greek, Indian and Middle Eastern, Italian, Oriental, Spanish and vegetarian food. Coffee houses and tea shops take their place alongside pubs with colorful names: Champion of the Thames, Hogshead, Pickerel, Red Cow, and the Rat and Parrot.

American visitors may find the Eagle pub of particular interest. This restored, seventeenth-century coach inn was a favorite with the military during WW II. On the ceiling of its Air Force Bar the names and numbers of wartime Royal Air Force and US squadrons were burned on the ceiling with cigarette lighters and candle smoke.

Cambridge Museums
There are archaeology, anthropology, zoology, technology, photography and historical museums connected to the various colleges. The Fitzwilliam Museum, an elegant building on Trumpington Street, contains paintings, drawings, prints, glass, sculpture, silver, furniture, rare books, a collection of fans and more spanning a 400-year period. Admission is free.

Another curiosity is the Cambridge and County Folk Museum housed in a sixteenth century timber farmhouse, one of Cambridge’s oldest structures. Small rooms inside the quaint house exhibit what everyday life was like 300 years ago for local people.

Outside Cambridge
Cambridge is surrounded by historic towns and houses, gardens, orchards, vineyards and country parks in an unspoiled countryside.
About four miles northwest of Cambridge is the American Cemetery on Madingley Road. This peaceful landscaped hillside commemorates the 3,811 American service personnel who died in WW II. The headstones, a mixture of crosses and Stars of David, sweep across the green lawns in seven concentric arcs.

Framed by woodlands on the west and south, a Memorial Wall contains the inscribed names of another 5,125 servicemen who lie in unknown graves. Inside the memorial chapel is a map of the United Kingdom depicting the locations where American units were stationed during WW II.

The Imperial War Museum at Duxford
The Imperial War Museum at Duxford, 13 miles southwest of Cambridge, exhibits Britain’s largest collection of military and civil aircraft. Housed in five hangers, exhibition halls and in the American Air Museum, the museum covers over seven acres. This former Battle of Britain Airfield was also a United States 8th Air Force fighter base between 1943 and 1945.

It’s impossible to see all the exhibits in one day. The American Air Museum alone contains a B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-52 Stratofortress and more, plus jeeps, missiles, helicopters, trucks, engines, uniforms, insignias, photos and even a section of the Berlin Wall.

Gail Fisher has lived in the Southeast Valley for over 40 years and is a Tempe resident. Reach her at fisher.readers@cox.net. The views expressed are those of the author. 

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