As my tenure as UEA American Scholar draws to a close I have been reflecting on my time with the Memorial Library. It has been a wonderful experience with many opportunities to learn, explore, and grow as a person while giving back to my adoptive city and region. But I wasn’t always aware of what a truly grand opportunity working here could be.
Before starting my tenure at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library (2AD) I honestly wasn’t quite sure what it was. It had always been that little space in the corner of the library that I never quite made it into. However, nearly a year working with the collection and the individuals who come to visit I have come to realize what an important resource it is and how well the idea of a living memorial is truly doing.
Shortly after beginning with the 2AD I had the great privilege to attend a memorial service in St. Paul’s honouring the US airmen who gave their lives flying from bases across the UK. If the enormity of that service hadn’t already driven home how important the work at our little memorial was the conversations I had with veterans, their families, and politicians over the previous and subsequent days served to further highlight why we need such a place.
This event is far from the only time I’ve had the opportunity to speak to veterans or their families. It seems to be a pilgrimage of sort for fathers to bring their children to see the region that so shaped their lives, and they invariably come to us to view our collection and share some of their stories. It is even more common to have the families of veterans come in with the story, “He never spoke about it.” These groups are, to me, among the best to assist because it helps put together a picture of their father’s and grandfather’s life they otherwise wouldn’t have. Opportunities like this are what make working at the 2AD such a spectacular opportunity.
There is another group of visitors who are just as fascinating to visit with as the actual veterans, the locals. I have gotten to sit and listen to innumerable older visitors talk about their memories of being young children surrounded by a sudden new world of different accents, customs, and looks. One gentleman told me how he and his friends would follow servicemen around begging for gum, a common enough snack now but an incredible treat back then. Another said his route to school would take him right past an airfield in the mornings when the planes would be taking off, and how his walk home would usually coincide with the planes returning, a great many fewer than he saw in the morning. This impact the war and the American involvement had in the lives of the young has echoed down to today in a million small ways and hearing how it began is one of the greatest treats I have experienced here.
All of this comes down to a single point, while I was unfamiliar with the 2AD before I began, I now recognize it as the indispensable resource it is. An enduring link between the past and the present, America and the UK, and for generations to understand each other in ways not normally possible. My time he has taught me just how important a living memorial is, not only for remembrance but for carrying on the legacy of those who strove to make such a place possible.
I will dearly remember my time here for these reasons, among many others, and hope to remain in the sphere of the 2AD for years to come. Thank you all for your part in making this opportunity so wonderful with your involvement and discussion over the year and I hope I have done my part in ensuring the legacy of those before me is carried on.
So, for one final time, thank you for reading and remembering with me.
All the best,