British choir visits US for 60th anniversary of American WWII memorial in London

It was built decades ago in one of London’s iconic cathedrals as a tribute to American soldiers who lost their lives during World War II and served as a reminder of the everlasting bond between allies who stuck together in the world’s greatest time of need.

And now, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the opening of the American Memorial Chapel, the strength of that bond will be felt across the Atlantic Monday as the famed boy choir from St. Paul’s Cathedral will be performing at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The free program is being streamed online, reflecting on themes of faith and sacrifice surrounding the war.

“There was a tremendous feeling of gratefulness and goodwill to the American servicemen that had done such marvelous work, and so many lives that had been lost to win the Second World War,” Peter Chapman, a former member of the choir, told Fox News.

Chapman, who toured the U.S. with the choir as an 11-year-old boy in 1953, went on to author a book on the shared history between St. Paul’s Cathedral and America and will be speaking about it Monday night at 7:30 p.m. ET.

The American Memorial Chapel in St. Paul's Cathedral.

The American Memorial Chapel in St. Paul's Cathedral. (St. Paul's Cathedral)

In addition to remarks from him and the Dean of St. Pauls, the boy choir will be singing music from England, France, songs from the 1953 tour and selections from German composer Felix Mendelssohn.

The sold-out New Orleans stop on the choir’s ongoing U.S. tour is the first time they have visited the city since the 1950s, the museum says.

“With us being here this time... [we thought] this would be a unique location, not a traditional cathedral to hold this concert,” Lauren Handley, the museum’s assistant director for public programs, told Fox News. The facility is expecting a crowd of around 800 in its U.S. Freedom Pavilion, where the event will unfold underneath a B-17 Flying Fortress hanging overhead.

Chapman said the idea of the American Memorial Chapel in St. Paul’s started with Royal Air Force Marshal Hugh Trenchard, who had been concerned that there was no dedication to the 28,000 Americans who died in World War II while based in Britain.

A year after the war ended, Trenchard met with the dean of St. Paul’s, who recommended using a space on the east end of the cathedral – which had been reduced to rubble during the German Blitz of London – as a site to pay tribute to those American heroes.

The choir's New Orleans performance will be streamed for free online.

The choir's New Orleans performance will be streamed for free online. (St. Paul's Cathedral)

Around 60 percent of the costs to construct the chapel were then donated by the British public, who dropped coins and bills in tin cans as they left movie theaters across the country where a short film was playing about the memorial and why it was being built, Chapman told Fox News.

He added that even President Dwight Eisenhower offered financial help, but the committee planning the chapel didn’t take it and insisted it was a gift from the British.

In November 1958, the chapel – which has stained-glass windows featuring all the state symbols – opened with a dedication ceremony attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Richard Nixon, who then was a vice president.

In addition to wood carvings of the birds, plants and flowers of the U.S., it also features a 500-page, leather-bound book listing the 28,000 Americans based in Britain who gave their lives during the war.

"Defending freedom from the fierce assault of tyranny they shared the honor and the sacrifice,” the book opens. “Though they died before the dawn of victory their names and deed will long be remembered where ever free men live.”

St. Paul’s says thousands of those whose names are listed in the book died in Normandy on D-Day and in other battles in mainland Europe right up until the end of the war.

The American Memorial Chapel, which opened in 1958, has a book listing the names of each of the 28,000 Americans who died in World War II while based in Britain.

The American Memorial Chapel, which opened in 1958, has a book listing the names of each of the 28,000 Americans who died in World War II while based in Britain. (St. Paul's Cathedral)

The next year, Eisenhower visited and wrote his own message in the book, saying that those “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,” he wrote. “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.”

Now each year, St. Paul’s invites all Americans to a Thanksgiving service in London.

“There are a lot of American tourists who come to Britain and visit the chapel,” Chapman told Fox News. “I have taken people around there and people who had relations who those who were lost… we look at their names in the roll of honor and that is deeply meaningful to the people who are there.”

Chapman, who sang for Eisenhower at the White House in 1953, before he visited the chapel, said the president “greeted us all personally with a handshake and a beaming smile.”

After the New Orleans performance, the choir will be performing in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Memphis and New York City.