by Don Allen
On June 13th, 1963, fifty-five years ago today, the original 2nd Air Division Memorial Library was opened.
But the idea for the Library was nearly twenty-years older.
In 1945, the Second Air Division Memorial Library appeal leaflet was published. (To view the entire three page leaflet, visit our Digital Archives by clicking here).
Signed by Maj. General W.E. Kepner, Commander of the Division, it declared that “The Flame Must Burn On!”.
How was this flame to burn however? The solution was a “spiritually living” memorial:
In order to perpetuate their memory, we propose to erect a memorial to these honored dead — your Memorial to them. This Memorial must be a spiritually living thing. The deep and sacred feeling giving birth to this Memorial, their spirit of youth, hope, and desire for a world of decency, freedom, and peace must live on — must imbue this Memorial with that same sacred spirit dedicated to oncoming generations whose way of life they died to protect. This Memorial must be a haven wherein the flame of their principles must burn brightly and eternally, wherein the bewildered, stumbling footsteps of succeeding generations can be unerringly placed on the right paths…
For those who survive this conflict, this Memorial will be a source of pride and enjoyment for our accomplishments. It will be a place where we can bring our family and friends in years to come and relive these days of our years.
For those who have paid the supreme sacrifice, and for whom there can be no permanent resting place, such a Memorial to their families and friends will represent tangible living evidence of the heart-felt gratitude and love of their country and comrades with whom they lived and fought — for when the airfields are plowed up, and all vestiges of the chaos of war have disappeared in time, this will remain a perpetual tribute to their memory — to their faith in an ideal….
More than that however, it will be a memorial of living spiritual significance for, through the American Reference Library and the American Reading Room, it will bring a daily influence of American thought and ideals to the people of the Norwich community with whom we have been so closely associated during these difficult years
It was originally planned to take three years to build a separate building, however due to the post-war economic struggles and the need to re-build the war damaged nation this was put on hold, though never forgotten.
Finally, in 1963, the Memorial was completed as a separate room inside the then brand new Norwich Central Library, rather than as a separate building. Nearly two-hundred veterans returned for the dedication, including Gen. Kepner, seen below shaking hands with Mr. T.D. Copeman, Chairman of the Memorial Trust, upon arriving at Sculthorpe.
A special message from President John F. Kennedy was read at the dedication, where he made sure to highlight the special connection between the US and the UK armed forces:
On the Occasion of the Dedication of this Memorial, I would like to join in paying tribute to the six thousand members of the Second Air Division who sacrificed their lives in the defence of free men everywhere.
These men and their companions in arms in the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Corps were given the hard task of risking the present for the future. They met the test. May their sacrifice continue to strengthen the bonds of friendship between our two nations, allies past and present, against tyranny. May it also inspire us to pursue with energy and patience the opportunities for securing peace with justice preserved for us by those whose memorial we dedicate today.
John F. Kennedy, President of the United States, June 13th, 1963
Some more pictures from that day:
For fifty-five years the Library has been dedicated to the ideals outlined above by the men and women of the 2nd Air Division and Pres. Kennedy. Here’s looking forward to another fifty-five.