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Friday, 4 July 2014

John F Kennedy Memorial

This post is dedicated to our American cousins.

JFK Memorial, Runnymede, 35th President of the USA

You will find Britain's memorial to JFK at Runnymede, an area of meadow land on the banks of the River Thames in the county of Surrey.  The 35th President of the United States of America was gunned down in Dallas aged 46 on 22nd November 1963, having been in office for less than 3 years.  His memorial is contained within an acre of British land, gifted by the people of Britain to the people of America in perpetuity.  The spot is a pleasant one, and appropriate; Magna Carta, the Great Charter, which many believe laid the foundation for English (and later British and American)  civil liberties was signed nearby in 1215.

The memorial is more than an inscribed monument.  The designer, Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, was inspired by Bunyan’s allegory of life in Pilgrim’s Progress to create a memorial that starts as soon as you step through the simple wooden gate.  You proceed through the wild woods of human existence along a stepped cobbled path, the cobbles symbolising people met along the way and the 50 unique steps representing the States of America.  I’m not sure I get all of that, but the memorial itself, a 7 ton block of Portland stone from the same quarry used to build St Paul’s Cathedral, seems to float in the air.  Carved on it are some noble words from President Kennedy’s inaugural speech:

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Geoffrey Jellicoe, Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress

It is hard, more than half a century on, to understand what the slaying of John Fitzgerald Kennedy meant to many in these islands at the time.  Even now, it does more than simply attract the interest of conspiracy theorists.  Clearly, the man was no saint and his father was, from what I’ve read, an unpleasant individual who also seemed to nurse a particular brand of tribal bigotry against my country.  But JFK appeared to reach out everywhere and, in the words of Harold Macmillan, was “one of those rare personalities who seemed born to bridge the gulf dividing races and creeds and help build the unity of all mankind.”  Not everyone will agree with that and someone obviously disliked Kennedy enough to go to a great deal of trouble to get rid of him.  However, in a civilised democratic society, you do not solve your differences through violence and at the point of a gun - for there lies the path to anarchy or totalitarianism. Moreover, taking out a properly elected political leader undermines everyone’s sense of security; if ‘they’ can get to him/her, are any of us safe?  I believe Kennedy did inspire, and symbolised something positive – a sincere belief in liberty - perhaps youth, a fresh approach less than 20 years after the bloodiest war the world has ever known?  And who amongst us can fail to see the human tragedy in his passing?  Irrespective of what anyone thought of his personality, beliefs, or policies, it was - and is - the manner of his murder that disturbs people most.  I am just old enough to remember the grainy TV news coverage of his assassination and the horrified reaction of my parents; they were stunned.  Harold Macmillan and his wife Dorothy’s personal message to Jackie Kennedy said, “We are numbed by the shock of Jack’s death.”  That feeling crossed political divides in Britain and I’m sure was echoed in most homes.

The Runnymede Memorial was made possible by a huge public response to a government-led appeal.  It was officially opened on 14th May 1965 by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh as well as Jackie Kennedy, her two children and the late president’s brother, Robert.

But there was also enough in the memorial fund to enable the creation of a living memorial, by establishing the Kennedy Memorial Trust on 4th July 1964.  The Trust provides scholarships for British graduates to study at two of the USA’s top universities, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Kennedy Memorial Trust, Fourth of July, British, American, shared values

You’ll notice the Trust was established on a fitting anniversary for the USA – Independence Day, of course, the Fourth of July, when Americans celebrate their freedom from tyrannical British Rule, cricket, decent ale, bad teeth, and a whole lot more besides.  We joke about the differences - two nations divided by a common language and all that - but sometimes forget the things we have in common.  So I think the Kennedy Memorial represents something else too.  It symbolises friendship, ties of shared heritage, culture (mostly), values and, yes, blood as well.  The world is a much smaller place now.  In an idle, idealistic, moment I speculate that there should be a friendship monument to every other signed up nation in every respective capital across the globe.  Remember we’re all related anyway.  Which, if you’ve ever wandered along the seafront at Blackpool after dark, is a terrifying thought.

Visit the Kennedy Memorial Trust website for more information.


  1. what a most beautiful post. i loved the unity you expressed in it. i had no idea of the memorial there. what a wonderful gift across the sea.

  2. This is a very nice memorial to the late President Kennedy. I was 13 when I heard the news and remember watching it all on television. It was the first violent image to enter my young mind I think. Another interesting post, Mike.

  3. i love how you brought to the front our ability to work together. very positive thought. there is a lot going on in this world & i find that thinking on what we do right, how we work together & all that jazz is so important. let's forget the oops & silliness for a bit or two. i am not quite sure where the US is ahead? it does confuse me so??! ( :

  4. I had no idea that existed. I would love to see that memorial. I think JFK's death set our country on a different trajectory. Hard to believe the words, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country' were ever uttered by a leader of the USA in relatively recent history. And even now I feel sad that his life was cut short. Thanks for this informative post, Mike.

  5. Hi, a great post for July 4th,Independence Day We live not too far from this memorial and only visited it once. Maybe it is time we went again!!
    Tomorrow we are going to visit Stonehenge, have you done a post on it? We have a free timed ticket as we are English Heritage members.

  6. A good post for the day or for any day!

  7. Interesting, I wasn't aware of this monument.

  8. Thanks for commenting at my place.
    My good friend, the Brighton Pensioner, posted about the Seven Sisters about the same time as you.
    I learned more here... not that I don't learn a lot at his blog.

  9. Excellent post (I will be sure to thank Judy at Cranberry Morning for leading me to your blog).
    Glad I found it!

  10. I had no idea it existed either. It's a beautiful memorial.

  11. A lovely memorial. I love your last line, and having been in Blackpool once after dark, I can agree totally. Very scary!

  12. Beautiful essay, and like others, I didn't know this memorial exists. His assassination was a watershed moment in my childhood world, and it is touching that England has created a memorial to an American President.

  13. What a beautiful piece of writing. Here in the States, of course JFK is known as one of our greatest Presidents... and I love finding bits of the USA In the UK and visa versa, we are so intertwined... our two nations.
    Have a wonderful up coming week!

  14. Nice post, I hav eyet to visitthe memorial even though it is not that far from where I live.

  15. Excellent story - I had no knowledge of this memorial. I did visit Runnymede with a school group long before - I guess in the 50's!!! Nice that there was enough money to also award scholarships to such prestigious schools over here. The assassination happened just a year after I came to work in Washington, D.C. That sad day, and the reaction of the people around me in the office, will be forever etched in my memory.

    Thank you for such a great post………..and although I may actually be in Blackpool for a couple of days next year, I'll skip any invitations to walk the seafront after dark!!

    Mary -


Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.