The website of St Paul’s proudly states that “the UK has had a long relationship with the American people, formed largely after the Second World War, a conflict in which thousands of Americans based within the UK were to give their lives.”
The most visible striking reminder of this sacrifice and subsequent deep friendship can be found beyond the High Altar at the very east end of the Cathedral, in the American Memorial Chapel, a space rebuilt after being destroyed in the Blitz and dedicated in its entirety to the American dead of WWII.
At the heart of the chapel sits a huge, 500-page, leather-bound book; a roll of honor to the 28,000 Americans – from Aaberg to Zingale – stationed in the UK who gave their lives throughout the War. The book opens:
Defending freedom from the fierce assault of tyranny
they shared the honor and the sacrifice.
Though they died before the dawn of victory their names and deed
will long be remembered where ever free men live.
Thousands of the men named in the roll of honor died on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, as well as in training operations in the lead up to the campaign and in the subsequent battles on the European mainland, right up until the day on which the Allies celebrated Victory in Europe.
The book was unveiled in 1958 at a service to dedicate the Chapel, attended by The Queen and American Vice President, Richard M Nixon.
A year later, President Dwight D Eisenhower visited the Chapel and the roll of honor. Words in the book written by the President, who as a soldier commanded the Allied troops on D-Day, read:
Each name inscribed in this book is a story of personal tragedy and a grieving family; a story repeated endlessly in white crosses girdling the globe. The Americans, whose names here appear, were part of the price that free men have been forced a second time to pay in this century to defend human liberty and rights.
Fittingly, this roll of honor has been enshrined by the Mother Country of all English-speaking democracies in this special chapel of St Paul’s, once a target of barbaric attack. Here, we and all who shall hereafter live in freedom will be reminded that to these men and their comrades of all the Allies we owe a debt to be paid with grateful remembrance of their sacrifice and with the high resolve that the cause for which they died shall live eternally.
St Paul’s proudly states that the chapel itself is truly a place for all Americans. The three stained-glass windows contain the state symbols of every American state. The wood carvings contain the birds, plants and flowers of America and hidden away in one panel are a space rocket and stars – a nod to the space program that was being developed at the time the Chapel was completed.
Each November, St Paul’s holds a US Thanksgiving service, to which all Americans in London are invited.
I visited this august memorial last month and was struck by its peaceful majesty. In this calm, quiet space, the American war dead are remembered. The inscription in the floor tells the story, simply and beautifully. It reads: “To the American dead of the Second World War from the People of Britain.”