May 12, 2014

Remembering the British sailors killed in the
1942 Battle of the Atlantic…WITH SLIDE SHOW


Charles Hassell and Ted Rex learned about a piece of North Carolina history of which they were unaware when they attended the annual British Cemetery Memorial remembrance Friday on Ocracoke.

Elementary school teachers in Raleigh, the two were attending a conference at North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. They talked with Commander David Trudeau, with the Royal Canadian Navy, who was among several military officials in attendance, who explained Canada’s reverence for the Battle of the Atlantic every first Sunday in May.

“We’re expanding our knowledge,” Rex said about the German U-boat brigade that for six months picked off allied convoys like a shooting gallery off the Outer Banks in 1942.

“I’d never heard about this. (Attending this event) is like walking down a hall and opening a door,” he said .

“I’d heard there were German U-boats off the coast but didn’t know how many,” Hassell added.

“It’s not well known because the government didn’t want the American people to know about it and start a panic,” noted islander Peter Vankevich, who had joined the group’s conversation.

Staging for the North Atlantic convoys took place in Canada. Since 1974, Ocracoke has remembered the four British sailors whose bodies washed ashore after a U-boat on May 11, 1942, torpedoed the HMT Bedfordshire, a British trawler pressed into military service to ferry supplies.

Two of the sailors were identified: Sub-Lieutenant Thomas Cunningham and Ordinary Telegraphist Second Class Stanley Craig.

The people of Ocracoke rallied and donated the land on which the four are interred and which is now owned by Great Britain.  Two other British sailors are interred in a second cemetery in Buxton and were remembered the day before the Ocracoke event.  These are the only World War II British cemeteries in the United States.

Under the auspices of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Park Service, and the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association conduct remembrances of these men who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Also participating were the U.S. Coast Guard Pipe Band, the U.S. Coast Guard Honor Guard, which conducted the 21-gun salute, Ocracoke Boy Scout Troup #290 and islander Howard Bennink, who played taps.

“The freedom we enjoy today is not free, but comes with a price,” said Col. Alan Litster, a British Royal Marine attaché, to the more than 150 attendees on Friday.

“We were allies during World War II fighting evil and tyranny,” Trudeau said in his remarks, “and we are still allies, friends and neighbors.”

Karen and Tom Turner of Atlanta were on Ocracoke for a family reunion and attended the ceremony.

“It was very moving,” Karen said, “especially when they read the names of Bedfordshire sailors who died.”

Each year, Ocracoke High School students read the story of the Bedforsdshire and the roll of those who died.  Wyatt Norris read the story and Alma Flores read the roll call.

Richard Eagles, formerly of London and now of Margate, Fla., attended the event in honor of his 91-year-old uncle Jeffrey Palmer, who had been a member of the British Royal Patrol Service, which was the name of this section of the British military in the Battle of the Atlantic.  He and Andrew Wolf of Miami, Fla., made the trip to the Outer Banks as representatives of the alumni of the Patrol Service.

“It’s important to them that someone be here,” Eagles said.

comments powered by Disqus