Ocracoke's history & its people

British Cemetery & its grave markers

br cemetery 4 seamen sign

“There are no roses

on sailors’ graves,
Nor wreaths upon the
storm tossed waves,
No last post from the
Royals band,
No heartbroken words
carved on stone,
Just shipmates bodies
floating there alone.
The only tributes are the
seagull’s sweeps,
And the teardrop when
a loved one weeps.”
– Author unknown

By Earl W. O’Neal, Jr.

May 2010

The British Cemetery has been in place since the first burial ceremo­nies were held in May 1942 for four sailors that washed ashore from the HMT Bed­fordshire after she was torpe­doed and sunk with all hands lost by German U-boat U-558 on May 11, 1942. The land for the cemetery was provided by Mrs. Alice Wahab Williams next to their own family cem­etery.

Lt. R. B. Davis R.N.R. was the Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy’s HMT Bed­fordshire, a British Trawler converted to an Armed Trawl­er with a 4 inch gun, one ma­chine gun and depth charges. It was used to protect Allied shipping along the Carolina coast and around the Dia­mond Shoals.

Those first two washed ashore Ocracoke Island and buried here are Sub-Lt. Thomas Cunningham, R.N.V.R., Stanley Craig, 2nd Class Telegraphist. Two weeks later the bodies of two additional unknown sail­ors from the HMT Bedford­shire washed up on shore and were buried with a Funeral Service. The first four wood crosses were there for a very short period of weeks until per­manent crosses were made and remained on the graves until 1983.

Over the years several dif­ferent organizations, BMC Peter N. Stone, USCG Ret and others have cared for the graves. The U.S. Coast Guard, for many years furnished all the labor for maintenance and is a partner in the ceremonies along with the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum as of the year 2000, who handles the administrative duties and interface with the Common­wealth War Graves Commis­sion, Ottawa, Canada.

The Coast Guard also pro­vides the U.S. Coast Guard Military Honor Ceremonies each year along with speak­ers to coincide with the guest speakers set up by the Com­monwealth War Graves Com­mission and others.

brit cem marker

The four original crosses were placed back in the vicin­ity of the British Cemetery in an arrangement that will in­clude a plaque with the names and to honor all of the British sailors that lost their lives on the HMT Bedfordshire with only the sea as their grave.

First I want to thank all of the organizations, Peter N. Stone, USCG Ret and others who have helped to maintain the cemetery for over a half century. Also, to thank them for their continued help to honor these young men who lost their lives defending our shores and ships during World War II.

A special thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard who has always been there to assist and to assure these men are not forgotten and Peter Stone who carried on the care while he was stationed here in the Coast Guard and even after he retired.

I commend and thank Commander Christopher J. Olin, United States Coast Guard Group Cape Hatteras, BM1 Michael R. Perkins, U.S. Coast Guard Station Ocracoke and their men and women along with Mr. Joseph K. Schwarzer, Executive Direc­tor, Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum and his staff, for a job well done to preserve the memory of these men forever. Also, thank you to the Com­monwealth War Graves Com­mission who permitted the crosses to be placed outside of the cemetery with a plaque to honor all of the men of the HMT Bedfordshire. The relo­cation of the original crosses and the cemetery care and upkeep is certainly outstand­ing and something all of your people can be proud of along with all of the people of Oc­racoke and our visitors from Canada and England.

Thank you to the Ocracoke Preservation Society that in 1983took on as one of its first projects under President, Da­vid Esham who along with his staff set out to preserve the original crosses.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was in the process of replacing all of the grave markers for their people

who were buried on foreign soil so that the markers would all be alike. They had hired Clifton and Clifton Monument & Sandblasting, Elizabeth City, NC to set the new grave markers and to destroy the crosses. David Esham and his staff wrote letters, made trips to Raleigh and contacted the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who were reluc­tant, but finally allowed the Ocracoke Preservation Society to keep the original crosses.

Thank you David for the twelve or so years you kept the cross­es at your Pony Island Motel when the Preservation Society did not have a building. The crosses were stored under the Preservation Society Museum about the time the new section was added to keep them out of the weather in the 1990s until this year.

Also, thank you to the Oc­racoke Preservation Society and her staff who have per­mitted us to re-establish the crosses in a location where they can still pay honor to those British sailors who gave their lives protecting our free­dom.

 

brit cem