Two annual ceremonies are returning in 2023 to honor the World War II British and Canadian sailors who lost their lives off the Outer Banks 81 years ago.
In mid-May, representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Navy, British Royal Navy, and National Park Service will come together at the British cemeteries on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands to honor the 63 foreign sailors who perished while protecting our coast.
The ceremonies are held every year near the anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Bedfordshire, with the first ceremony scheduled for May 11 at 11:00 a.m. in Buxton, and the second ceremony scheduled for May 12 at 11:00 a.m. in Ocracoke village.
The Buxton ceremony honors the service of the men who lost their lives in April of 1942 when the British-armed tanker San Delfino was sunk by a German submarine, U-203, just off the shoreline of Pea Island. Two of the men are buried at the British Cemetery in Buxton: Fourth Engineer Officer Michael Cairns of the Royal Merchant Navy from the San Delfino, and an unknown sailor.
The second ceremony will be held the following day at the British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island to pay tribute to the sailors from HMS Bedfordshire, which was sunk in May of 1942 by the German U-558, near the island. The bodies of Sub-Lieutenant Cunningham and Ordinary Telegraphist Second Class Craig are buried at the Ocracoke site, and two bodies were also found in the ocean north of Ocracoke, and although never identified, they were believed to have come from Bedfordshire, and were interred alongside their shipmates in what would eventually become the Ocracoke British Cemetery.
A reception at the Our Lady of the Seas Catholic Church will follow the Buxton ceremony, while a similar reception will be held after Ocracoke’s ceremony at the Berkley Barn.
Both the Ocracoke and Buxton British Cemeteries also remain open to the public daily for those who would like to pay their respects. The Buxton British Cemetery is located on Lighthouse Road in Buxton, just past the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, while the Ocracoke British Cemetery is located on British Cemetery Road off of N.C. Highway 12 near Silver Lake Harbor.