The alarm went off at 0730 waking us both, but as the strident bleeping stopped, it was replaced by the howl of a wind straight off the Fens, rain beating on the bedroom windows, making the thought of venturing outside most undesirable. This was Bank Holiday weather exactly as forecast the night before. The cheerful forecaster said that the wind chill, coming from the north, would make it feel like minus two degrees, at the end of May, surely he was joking? But who cares about the weather, today is Memorial Day at Madingley.
Fast forward to 1015, when the young USAF Airman mistakenly pointed me to the V.I.P's car park, things were looking up! We duly parked, donned raincoats, opened umbrellas and tried to saunter off without making it look too obvious that we were actually very non-V.I.P.
We walked to the undercroft of the Memorial Chapel to check if the 398th Bomb Group Wreath had arrived as promised. The wind was so strong, the rain was incessant, it was unbelievably cold, I fully accepted the minus two wind chill. It seemed that half of the USAF were in the undercroft, all sorting Wreaths, thus it seemed prudent to trust the Florist's word and go find somewhere to sit.
We saw so many friends, all with two things in common at this moment, wet and wetter.
The plastic seats were all in position, running the whole length of the 'Wall of the Missing', from the Chapel to the mighty flagpole. The flag was cracking and snapping in the high winds. What a clever design making the seats with a dipped area in which to place one's derriere, how quickly they filled with rainwater, even when one sat on them.
Arthur from the ABMC confirmed that the flypasts were all cancelled - understandably.
I have seen the numbers attending Memorial Day increase over the years since I first started paying my respects in 1971. This year was no exception to last year in terms of numbers turning up, despite the foul weather, all there to remember those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice. Sitting there in heavy rain was as nothing compared to what these young people had gone through. All gave some, gave all.
Posting of Colours - National Anthems - Welcome Remarks - Opening Remarks - Invocation - Addresses - Recognition of Veterans, wow, the 305th Bomb Group was there in force, they had just unveiled and dedicated their Memorial at Chelveston on Saturday. Hey, if I was cold what must these tough old veterans be feeling like? But they all stood up along with others, from the 355th Fighter Group, plus a few more proud Veterans scattered throughout the large crowd. My goodness, we all give them such a well deserved round of applause
Time to present the Floral Decorations. Wind and rain continued unabated. The order was given for the Wreath Bearers to proceed from down by the Chapel. As they marched past in a single line, with a drumbeat accompaniment, I saw the 398th Wreath being carried with a feeling of much relief. On the command we all walked down to find our Wreath Bearer. Mine was young, they all were, but this guy looked so boylike. I thanked him for bearing the Wreath and for standing in the rain with me. Two bearers down, stood a young USAF lady who was shivering with the cold as she held her Wreath in front of her. At this moment I felt such strong kinship with these young serving women and men as we stood together, united in one common purpose at that moment. Upon the command they stepped forward and placed the Wreaths in the recipients hands. Then they smartly turned right and marched away. Now we all stood in line awaiting the command to place our wreaths, but the public address system decided it had had enough and stopped functioning. So starting from the far end, like a sinuous wave, we all moved forward and placed our Floral Tributes on the Wall of The Missing. Step back, bow head, rain now running down inside my shirt back, but who cares.
A moment of silence. All those young lives lost. All those terrible injuries, both physical and mental. Give thanks for those who survived. Then a Prayer of Remembrance.
Firing of Volleys made both of us jump, for by now I had walked back to join Joyce. Then Taps, played so beautifully by two members of the USAF in Europe Band, ensuring that rain mixed with salty tears.
Still the rain fell, we were both soaked through to our underclothes, so we decided that a drive home was called for.
Tuesday, it is still raining but with a promise of easing off in late morning. So Joyce and I drive back to Madingley to take the photos we could not manage the day before.
Now it's so quiet, we are almost alone. There were 106 Floral Tributes laid yesterday, we examined every single one of them today. Arthur from ABMC told us it was the worst weather for 18 years. He also showed us the flag that was totally wrecked after just one day atop the pole and it was storm quality!
Of one thing I am sure, as we walk down the long line of Wreaths, The Mighty Eighth will never be forgotten. There are so many English Friends.
With warmest regards
Note: The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial site in England is three miles west of Cambridge and is commonly referred to as Madingley.