the early years of World War II, two cemeteries on the Outer Banks –
one near Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the other in Ocracoke Village –
have been a place of eternal rest for British soldiers, allies who
sacrificed their lives while defending American shores when the United
States didn’t have the resources to guard against German submarines.
here have not forgotten that sacrifice. Since 1942, ceremonies have
been held to commemorate these British soldiers and plans have been
made to continue the tradition.
are invited to join this week in recognizing the sacrifice of these
soldiers during the 75th anniversary ceremonies hosted by the U.S.
Coast Guard; the Coast Guard Auxiliary; the U.S. Navy; the Canadian
Navy; the British Royal Navy; the Commonwealth War Graves Commission;
and the National Park Service, scheduled at the British cemeteries in
Buxton on Thursday and on Ocracoke Island on Friday. The ceremonies,
both set for 11 a.m., are free to attend.
the years, we have received tremendous community support to keep the
tradition alive and the memory of these sailors who lost their lives on
U.S. soil,” said Danny Couch, president of the Friends of the Graveyard
of the Atlantic Museum.
Atlantic Ocean and East Coast was a vital shipping lane for merchant
ships from various nations ferrying supplies in early 1942. The U.S.
Navy was not prepared for the German submarines prowling off the
Atlantic coast, so these German U-boats would wait offshore to take aim
and ended up sinking about 400 largely unarmed and unescorted merchant
U.S. Navy had no ships suited for anti-submarine patrol, so the United
States accepted the services of the British Royal Navy to guard against
German submarines. They provided 24 Royal Navy vessels with their
British crews to patrol sensitive areas along the East Coast, including
North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Buxton military honors ceremony will recognize those who lost their
lives in April 1942 when the British armed tanker San Delfino was sunk
by the U-203 just off Pea Island, adjacent to Cape Hatteras National
Seashore. On April 10, 1942, the unescorted San Delfino was hit by a
torpedo from U-203 east of Cape Hatteras, but without any visible
effect, according to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. A spread of
two torpedoes fired in a second attack missed, however, the next
torpedo hit and sank the tanker. In all, 24 crew members and four
gunners were lost. Nineteen crew members and two gunners were picked up
by HMS Norwich City and landed at Morehead City. Two of the men are
buried at the British cemetery in Buxton, 4th Engineer Officer Michael
Cairns and an unknown sailor.
the British cemetery in Ocracoke Village, the military honors ceremony
will recognize the sailors from the HMS Bedfordshire, one of the
vessels in the Royal Navy Patrol Service assigned to patrol the North
Carolina coast that was destroyed in May 1942 by a German submarine
U-558 near Ocracoke. Four bodies from the Bedfordshire were recovered
on Ocracoke beaches and from the surrounding waters. The Coast Guard
and Ocracoke residents buried Sub-Lt. Thomas Cunningham and Ordinary
Telegraphist 2nd Class Stanley Craig near the village cemetery, along
with two unknown sailors, according to the Graveyard of the Atlantic
the ceremony, officers will place wreaths at the graves and citizens
will read the names of the dead. The sounding of taps and a 21-gun
salute conclude the memorial services every year. A reception will
follow in the Ocracoke Community Center.
British Cemetery is a 2,290-square-foot plot of land leased to the
British government as a permanent resting place for its soldiers.
Village residents are partly responsible for its care. The Ocracoke
Occupancy Tax Board marks some funding for plants and the reception
that follows the ceremony but the funds do not cover the total cost,
according to a March article in the Ocracoke Observer. Donations to the
cemetery’s preservation and the reception can be sent to the Ocracoke
Civic and Business Association, P.O. Box 456, Ocracoke, NC 27960.
Donors are asked to note, “British Cemetery Ceremony,” on the memo
line. Volunteers also are needed. For information, call Crystal
Canterbury at 252-588-2245, or email [email protected].
is the Ocracoke representative charged with coordinating the ceremony
and reception with area businesses and The Graveyard of the Atlantic
“The museum personnel are instrumental in making the events successful,” she said.
of the cemetery is a year-round job for Canterbury, but she’s not alone
in the effort. She explained that while she assists the Coast Guard
with maintenance, volunteers help clean the monuments, plaques, and
crosses, and residents are known to water the flowers.
Visitors to the Ocracoke British Cemetery also contribute in the form of leaving tokens at the gravesite.
other month or so I remove objects from the site, per Commonwealth War
Graves Commission standards, and plan to use the objects – foreign
money, small crosses, notes written on shells, for example, as part of
a display that will be placed in Ocracoke School,” she added.
interest in the Ocracoke British Cemetery extends beyond its upkeep: It
sparked her interest in its history. She wrote an article about The
Battle of the Atlantic for the Ocracoke Current that gives some
background on why the Royal Navy Patrol Service was in Ocracoke and
what happened off the North Carolina coast.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras offers an opportunity to
learn more about why the British were so involved in U.S. efforts
during World War II, with its additional programming scheduled May 10.
Cunningham, son of Sub-Lt. Cunningham, whose body washed ashore in
Ocracoke a few days after the battle in May 1942, is slated to speak at
2 p.m. According to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, Cunningham’s
illustrated lecture will describe the Allied and Axis strategies before
and during the battle, and how Allied technology plus a major American
contribution assured victory at sea and in Europe. He will discuss the
U-boat attacks and subsequent heavy ship losses suffered during 1942
off the East Coast, along with the wider activities of the Navy in the
Alberg, superintendent of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, is
scheduled to provide updates at 3 p.m. on the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration’s Battle of the Atlantic research and
discuss NOAA’s partnership with the Royal Navy regarding the wreck site
of HMT Bedfordshire.
years ago, these young men gave their lives for our country, and it
seems only appropriate that we remember their service and their
sacrifice,” said Joseph Schwarzer, director of the North Carolina
Maritime Museums. “It’s a real honor to have Mr. Cunningham with us
this year as we recognize the 75th anniversary of the British war
Directions to the Cemeteries
To reach the Buxton cemetery, take U.S. 64 east to the ocean at Nags
Head, then travel 48 miles south on N.C. 12. Follow signs for Cape
Hatteras Lighthouse. Drive past the lighthouse parking lot on Lighthouse
Road, which then curves to the left. Once the road straightens you’ll
see a little brown sign and pull-off on the right; a trail leads back to
the tiny fenced-in grave plot.
To reach the Ocracoke cemetery from Manteo, take U.S. 64 east until
you arrive at the Intersection of N.C. 12. Take N.C. 12 south. Take the
Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry across the channel. Once you’re on Ocracoke
Island, take N.C. 12 south into the village. Follow signs for “British
Cemetery.” From Carteret County, follow U.S. 70 east to Cedar Island to
the Cedar Island-Ocracoke ferry.