The American Air Museum's Roll of Honour
The American Air Museum at IWM Duxford stands as a memorial to the 30,000 or so American servicemen and women who died while flying from Britain between 1942 and 1945. Their names appear on our Roll of Honour, which draws names and photographs from our archive into the exhibition space.
A dynamic memorial
The American Air Museum’s Roll of Honour is unique, it is a memorial list which simultaneously exists in the both the real and digital world. The names of people appearing on the walls of the American Air Museum also appear online in our archive and are linked together by a virtual bridge which updates every day.
This allows the American Air Museum to mark the sacrifices of those Americans whose may have once been overlooked, or we can change their names, so they appear as their loved ones advise.
The most accurate record of American sacrifice in Britain
Many traditional memorial lists can include mistakes. Families may have been unavailable to check the names of their relatives before the memorial was created. Or even asked the makers to leave a name off completely because they thought their loved one could still be alive if they had been declared missing in action.
Traditional memorials can also be limited by the period of time they were commissioned in, with only the people who could be identified before the memorial was completed being listed.
The American Air Museum’s Roll of Honour is not bound by these constraints, we have the flexibility to continually make updates. Because of this we believe that the American Air Museum’s Roll of Honour is the most accurate record of its kind.
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Putting faces to names
Portraits of the people commemorated on the Roll of Honour appear next to their names. This brings the memorial to life, reminding us that every name on it belonged to a person whose life was cut short by war.
We hope that one day we will be able to have a portrait of each of the people listed on the Roll of Honour and invite you to help us achieve this goal. If you have a photo of an American who died serving from Britain during the Second World War, please be sure to share it on our archive
Who is commemorated?
The American Air Museum’s Roll of Honour commemorates anyone who died while serving with the US Army Air Forces in or from Britain between 1942 and 1945.
Most of the people listed died in service with the Eighth Air Force, who were based in Britain from the spring of 1942 to late 1945 and carried out America's daylight strategic bombing offensive against Nazi Germany.
There are also names which belong to people who served with the Ninth Air Force and died while conducting tactical air operations to support the invasion of northwest Europe. Though the Roll of Honour chiefly lists Ninth Air Force personnel who died between October 1943 (when the Ninth Air Force were established in the UK) and the summer of 1944 (when most of the bomber, fighter and reconnaissance units moved from Britain to Europe to support ground operations on the continent) there are exceptions- many of the troop carrier units remained in Britain, to transport equipment, supplies and troops to the front lines until the end of the Second World War.
As Britain was the staging ground for America’s war in Europe, the Roll of Honour also commemorates a small number of American people who were not assigned to the Eighth or Ninth combat air forces. The nature of the Second World War meant that men, machines, and materiel were in constant demand, which led to deaths occurring on routine flights in and out of Britain. Entertainment and news reporting also played integral roles in the air war, which sometimes led to civilians dying in combat.
Many of the people listed on the Roll of Honour died in combat, often during or in support of bomber operations from Britain. Aviators flying over German occupied Europe commonly faced death from enemy fighters and anti-aircraft fire.
These defences could cause an array of problems for their aircraft, which further risked crew lives. Severed oxygen supplies or electrical lines could cause asphyxiation or death by frostbite, while damaged flight controls could lead to fuel leaks and engine failures, resulting in crashes or mid-air-collisions.
Baling out of a failing aircraft was also not without risk. By ditching into water fliers faced drowning in the freezing North Sea. Over land, airmen could die if their parachute failed to open, or if they had insufficient altitude to touch down safely.
On the ground, fliers could be murdered by hostile civilians, or die in treacherous attempts to reach safety. Being captured as a prisoner of war was also not without risks, as airmen could suffer from death and disease in camps or succumb to the during the appalling conditions on forced marches.
Setting off and returning from a mission could be equally dangerous. Deaths occurred as aircraft formed up in the dreary weather over Britain, or after they became lost on their return by straying into hostile air space, or even running out of fuel.
Of course, not everyone commemorated on the American Air Museum’s Roll of Honour died as a result of enemy action. Supporting the air war came with its fair share of risks, and many Americans perished by suffering accidents, disease, or injuries in Britain.
Even without enemy interference, military flying was precarious. For American airmen who had trained in the relative safety of the clear, still skies over the US; Britain’s cold, wet, and windy weather, significantly increased the hazards of flight. Low clouds and fog often cause confusion, collisions, and crashes, which took the lives of USAAF pilots.
Aircraft were no less dangerous on the ground as they were in the sky. Fatalities could and did occur in the course of working with them. Those people responsible for transporting and managing the highly explosive weapons and ammunition required to mount the USAAF’s bombing campaign, were also equally susceptible to these hazards.
The cultural disconnect of service in Britain could, occasionally, result in harm to Americans serving there. A small number of Americans succumbed to traffic accidents caused by straying onto the wrong side of the road, others fell prey to physical and mental illnesses. Racial tensions between Black and white troops accustomed to being segregated in America infrequently erupted too, resulting in the tragic deaths of those involved. While all these kinds of deaths were incredibly rare, the fraught circumstances of the Second World War, were still the reason behind them.
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American Air Museum's Roll of Honour
Look out for the people listed on the American Air Museum’s Roll of Honour as you are exploring our archive. We know researchers are interested in seeing who is listed on it.
If you think you have spotted a record in our archive for someone who ought to be listed on the Roll of Honour but is not, please contact us