On May 11, 1942, during World War II, German submarine U-558 sunk the H.M.T. Bedfordshire off the coast of Ocracoke.
The 77th anniversary of this tragedy will take place on Friday (May 10) at the small plot where four British sailors are buried along British Cemetery Road.
A second ceremony will take place the day before at the cemetery in Buxton near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse where four other British sailors are buried. These are the only WWII British cemeteries in the United States.
Representatives from the British Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy will be in attendance, as well as members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Ocracoke School students, visitors and residents.
During this solemn ceremony, organized by the War Graves Committee on Hatteras, officers will place wreaths at the graves and students will read the names of the dead. The sounding of taps and a 21-gun salute conclude the memorial service every year.
During World War II, especially in 1942, the waters off the East Coast were a vital shipping lane for merchant ships from various nations transporting supplies.
German U-boats would attack these largely unarmed and unescorted ships and ended up sinking about 400 merchant vessels. 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 areas along the East Coast, including North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
The Ocracoke ceremony traces its ties to island families back to May 1942 who donated land on which the four are interred. Two of the sailors were identified: Sub Lieutenant Thomas Cunningham and Ordinary Telegraphist Second Class Stanley Craig. The two others, although never identified, were assumed to have also come from the Bedfordshire and were interred alongside their shipmates.
These remembrances of the men who made the ultimate sacrifice are conducted under the auspices of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Park Service and the Ocracoke Civic & Business Association.
A reception, open to the public, will follow at the Berkley Manor barn.