The graves at the British Cemetery on Ocracoke. Photo: C. Leinbach

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The son of a British WWII sailor buried in the British Cemetery here is scheduled to attend the yearly ceremony at 11 a.m. Friday (May 12).  In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will be moved to the Ocracoke School gym on School Road.

This year, guests include Commander Tom Cunningham (Retired Royal Navy Reserve), who is the son of Sub-lieutenant Thomas Cunningham, who is buried in the cemetery, and his wife Madeleine. 

Cunningham, who was born after his father’s death, last attended the ceremony in 2012.

The community of Ocracoke honors these fallen heroes each year in a ceremony organized by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras and volunteers on Ocracoke including Ocracoke School seniors. 

Representatives from the British Royal Merchant Navy, the British and Canadian embassies in Washington, D.C., also attend.

The old families of Ocracoke hailed originally from Great Britain and mid-last century, islanders got a unique chance to help their ancestral countrymen when they buried four British sailors after a German U-boat torpedoed the HMT Bedfordshire, a British trawler pressed into the British Royal Merchant Navy to ferry supplies along the United States coast, killing a joint Canadian and British crew of 37 enlisted men and four officers.

The bodies of four sailors washed ashore on Ocracoke. In addition to Cunningham, the other identified sailor was Ordinary Telegraphist Second Class Stanley Craig. Two other unknowns are buried alongside these two.

Wreaths adorn the graves of the WWII fallen. Photo: C. Leinbach

The people of Ocracoke rallied and donated land on which the four are interred. That land is leased by Great Britain and the Ocracoke community has continued to help care for the grave sites and memorial to honor these British sailors.

The reception, open to all, is catered by a local restaurant, and the set-up, serving and clean-up are done by local volunteers.

Two sailors from the San Delfino, who are interred in Buxton, are remembered the day before the Ocracoke event.  These are the only WWII British cemeteries in the United States.

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