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The British Cemetery on American Land

For its size, the island of Ocracoke on the Outer Banks, off the coast of North Carolina, has a surprising number of cemeteries—more than eighty, cramped together on a sandy outcrop some 25 kilometers long and less than a kilometer wide for the most part. Most of these cemeteries are small and owned by individual families, although some hold dozens of graves.

An interesting cemetery is the British Cemetery, containing the graves of four British sailors.

British Cemetery Ocracoke

Photo credit: Melissa/Flickr


During World War 2, this region, off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, achieved notoriety as the “graveyard of the Atlantic” because of the huge number of ships lost to German U-boats. Most of these were freighters and tankers. One of these ships, the HMS Bedfordshire, was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 11, 1942, and sunk immediately after. All hands were lost.

A few days later, four bodies washed up along the beaches of Ocracoke. The villagers carried them ashore and gave them a quiet burial in the town, next to the villager's own community cemetery. Another body washed up on the nearby Hatteras Island, where the sailor was buried next to another group of sailors that had washed ashore from a previous attack, one year earlier.

The four bodies on Ocracoke constitute the British Cemetery. In 1976, this plot of land was donated to the British government on a perpetual lease making it probably the smallest Commission cemetery in the world. Each year in May, a ceremony is held honoring these men attended by representatives of the British Royal Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard.

British Cemetery Ocracoke

Photo credit: Richard Welty/Flickr

British Cemetery Ocracoke

Photo credit: nikkijw/Flickr

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