The British Cemetery Ceremony. Photo: C. Leinbach

Kevin Duffus to present “War Zone: When World War II was Fought off Ocracoke’s Beaches” at 7 p.m. Friday, May 12, in the Ocracoke Community Center.

The annual Ocracoke British Cemetery ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Friday, May 12, at the gravesite on British Cemetery Road.

Immediately following the commemoration, attendees are invited to the Ocracoke Community Center for a light luncheon.

Kevin Duffus. Photo: P. Vankevich

This year marks the 81st anniversary of the sinking of H.M.T. Bedfordshireoff the North Carolina coast on May 11, 1942.

The annual graveside ceremony, sponsored by the Ocracoke Preservation Society (OPS), goes back to May 1942 when following that sinking, an island family donated the land in which the bodies of four British sailors are interred.

Sub-Lt. Thomas Cunningham and Ordinary Telegraphist Second Class Stanley Craig were the only ones identified of the four sailors interred in this small patch of England.

The Bedfordshire was part of the Royal Navy Patrol Service (RNPS) and was one of 24 trawlers the British government pressed into service as advance-guard mine sweepers and escorts for British supply ships.

In addition to the morning remembrance, the OPS will host an evening with historian, author, and filmmaker Kevin Duffus at 7 p.m. that night in the Ocracoke Community Center.

In a special multi-media program, “War Zone: When World War II was Fought off Ocracoke’s Beaches,” Duffus will share stories of the time when Ocracoke Island was on the front line of the war.

An award-winning filmmaker and historian, Duffus filmed from 1997 to 2002 for a three-hour television documentary that focused on the first six months of 1942 when German U-boats waged unrestricted warfare on Allied merchant and military vessels off the Outer Banks.

The British Cemetery ceremony in Buxton, Hatteras Island. Photo courtesy of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

All of the interviewees, who have since passed, will be familiar to many.

Among them are Blanche Howard Jolliff, Calvin O’Neal, Ulysses Mac Womac, Owen Gaskill, Blanche Styron and Theodore Mutro.

Duffus was scheduled to give this talk last year, but a nor’easter prevented him and many others from getting to the island.

Representatives from the British Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy will take part in the ceremony as will members of the United States Coast Guard, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, North American representatives of the RNPS and students from Ocracoke School.

The Ocracoke community, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the Friends of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum have worked together to care for the gravesites and honor these British sailors each year since 1942.

A similar ceremony will be held the day before (May 11) at 11 a.m. at the British Cemetery in Buxton.

That ceremony honors Fourth Engineer Officer Michael Cairns and an unidentified sailor killed and 26 when German U-boat 203 sank the British armed tanker San Delfino off Pea Island on April 10, 1942.

OPS is also seeking volunteers for the Ocracoke reception. To help, contact Sundae Horn at 252-921-0283 or

The OPS also is seeking donations to go for landscaping the garden area and hosting the luncheon.

To donate online, visit or make checks payable to Ocracoke Preservation Society with “British Cemetery” in the memo line and mail to: OPS, Box 1240, Ocracoke, NC 27960.

The British Cemetery Ceremony honors the fallen of the HMT Bedfordshire of the Royal Naval Patrol Service. Photo: C. Leinbach
Previous articleThe Ocracoke School 1973 Yearbook: Innovation for school and community
Next articleOcracoke events May 8 to 14