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The British Cemetery on Ocracoke

The Commemoration of the 82nd Anniversary of the sinking of the H.M.T. Bedforshire will be on Friday, May 10th, 2024 at 11:00 AM at the Ocracoke British Cemetery.

Black and white photo of British cemetery on Ocracoke.

Photos courtesy of the Alice K. & Theodore Rondthaler Collection, OPS.

Early in 1942, during World War II, the British Royal Navy provided a flotilla of twenty-four trawlers to help defend the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and associated shipping lanes from enemy submarine attack. The H.M. Trawler Bedfordshire, built in 1935 as a fishing vessel and later converted for anti-submarine duty, was one of these ships. She was 162 feet long, with a joint Canadian and British crew of 4 officers and 33 enlisted men.


On May 11, 1942, the H.M.T. Bedfordshire was torpedoed by the German Submarine U-558 and sank approximately forty miles south-southeast of Cape Lookout, with all hands lost. The bodies of Sub-Lieutenant Thomas Cunningham and Ordinary Telegraphist 2nd Class Stanley R. Craig were found in the surf off Ocracoke Island on May 14. After being identified as H.M.T. Bedfordshire sailors, they were buried with the appropriate military honors on a plot of land donated by the Williams family on Ocracoke. Funeral rites were held by the late Amasa Fulcher, a prominent layman of the local Methodist Church. One week later, two more bodies were found in the ocean south of Ocracoke. Though never identified, these men were assumed to have been from the British trawler as well and were interred alongside their shipmates. Markers were made by the T.A. Loving Construction Co., which was building the Navy base nearby. A year after the burial, at Mrs. Cunningham’s request, a Catholic service was held by the Navy chaplain then stationed at Ocracoke. 


Initially, the sailors’ resting place was unofficially cared for by Ocracoke townspeople who were simply thankful for the sacrifice of the sailors. Eventually, the grounds were leased in perpetuity to the British Commonwealth for as long as the sailors are buried here, so that the four men could be technically buried on home soil. In the past twenty years, the Ocracoke Community, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Flotilla 16-4 Coast Guard Auxiliary have worked together to care for the gravesites and honor these British sailors each year since 1942. 

The area around the four graves is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which hires an island resident to oversee the maintenance. The area around the crosses and the flower beds are maintained by Ocracoke Preservation Society. OPS also ensures that the signage is maintained and up-to-date, and that a British Naval Ensign is flying. In addition, OPS provides the luncheon after the annual ceremony for all the visiting dignitaries.

Photo of the H.M.T. Bedfordshire courtesy of the Alice K. & Theodore Rondthaler Collection, OPS.

If you are interested in donating to support the British Cemetery Ceremony and the luncheon that follows shortly after, please click the link below! You may also make checks payable to Ocracoke Preservation Society with “British Cemetery” in the memo line and mail to:

Ocracoke Preservation Society

P.O. Box 1240,

Ocracoke, NC 27960

The British Cemetery commemoration on Ocracoke is sponsored by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board, and Ocracoke Preservation Society.

Photo courtesy of the Alice K. & Theodore Rondthaler Collection, OPS.

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