May 10, 2018

Community Honors WWII Sailors at
Buxton British Cemetery Ceremony


On Thursday morning, May 10, community members and representatives from multiple national and international organizations and military branches came together to honor the fallen WWII-era heroes that are laid to rest at the British Cemetery in Buxton.

The annual Buxton ceremony honors the service of the men who lost their lives in April 1942 when the British armed tanker San Delfino was sunk just off the local coastline.

During the height of World War II, the unescorted San Delfino was hit by seven torpedoes from the German U-203 just east of Cape Hatteras, resulting in the loss of 24 crew members and four gunners. Two of the men washed ashore along the beaches of Cape Hatteras, and were buried nearby at the British Cemetery in Buxton - Fourth Engineer Officer Michael Cairns of the Royal Merchant Navy who served on the San Delfino, and an unknown sailor.

The ceremony honors the two men buried in this quiet and secluded corner of Buxton, but it also represents the other men onboard the San Delfino, as well as the thousands of men who lost their lives along the Atlantic coastline during the war. This was a theme that was echoed among the speakers at the ceremony, and which resonated with all in attendance.

“For most of the men who lost their lives, there is no tombstone,” said Com. Martin Connell of the British Naval Attaché at the ceremony. “…[This] represents so many thousands of mariners who sacrificed their lives, and served their country.”

Many of the speakers at the ceremony expressed gratitude for the attendees who came to pay their respects, as well as the organizations and community members who come together to preserve the cemetery sites in Buxton and Ocracoke Island.

“[You] have preserved not just the graves themselves, but the memory of the sailors who lost their lives,” said Com. Martin Connell. “You pay my nation a great honor by doing so.”

Representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Navy, Canadian Navy, British Royal Navy, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the American Legion Riders, the Royal British Legion Riders, the Friends of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, the Dare County Sheriff’s Office, and the National Park Service all joined visitors and locals at the British gravesites for the regal and well-attended ceremony.

The roughly hour-long service included remarks from representatives of multiple and international military branches, including CWO Joshua Figueredo - Finance / Supply Division Chief USCG Sector North Carolina, CDR Javier Delgado - Department Head, USCG Sector North Carolina Logistics, Capt. Dermott Mulholland - Canadian Forces Naval Attaché, and Danny Couch - President of the Friends of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.

Two Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal Studies students, Susanna Rae Couch and Maddie Chandler, recounted the history and read the honor roll of the men who lost their lives aboard the San Delfino, which included sailors as young as 15-years-old. “We have done this every year for the past four years, and we are honored to do it,” said Couch.

Many visitors in attendance have made the ceremony an annual tradition, such as Richard Eagles who has an uncle living in North Carolina who was in the Royal Naval Patrol Service. “As long as he’s still with us, we will continue coming,” said Eagles, who was attending the ceremony for the sixth year with friend Andrew Wolf. “Our friends and family have started coming with us as well, so our group is growing.”

Indeed, the ceremony included visitors and representatives from multiple nations, and particularly Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. “It’s a big community event with a lot of different people represented,” said Boone Vandzura, Chief Ranger for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

In keeping with naval military tradition, the United States Coast Guard and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have maintained the cemetery, ensuring the plot is kept clean, a British ensign is always flying, and the appropriate honors are rendered annually.

As of May 2000, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum assumed responsibility for coordination of the annual honors event and for securing funding to ensure maintenance materials is available.  The Coast Guard retains responsibility for the military portion of the event for providing manual labor for the upkeep of the grave site.

The graves and cemetery grounds in Buxton on Hatteras Island are maintained by the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum and the United the Coast Guard. The National Park Service is responsible for the integrity of the site.

A second military honors ceremony will be held on Friday, May 11, at the Ocracoke British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island to pay tribute to the sailors from the HMS Bedfordshire, which was destroyed in May 1942 by German submarine U-558 near the island.

The ceremonies are organized by the Friends of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, the Ocracoke community, the U.S. Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary 16-04, the National Park Service, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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