It was a big surprise to me to learn today that German submarines preyed on tankers on the east coast of the United States during WWII.  And, thanks to a touching human interest story, with interesting historical commentary, in today’s Charlotte Observer about a crew of British sailors who were buried in Ocracoke cemetery in 1942, I plan to fill the knowledge gap.

The touching article was written by Richard Strading about British sailors who were buried in a small area known as the British Cemetery at Ocracoke in North Carolina.

The story is about Sub-Lt.Thomas Cunningham who, along with 37 crewmen, perished on the HMS Bedfordshire off the coast of North Carolina when it was torpedoed by a German submarine on May 11, 1942. There were no survivors and those who washed ashore were given an appropriate burial at Ocracoke .

Two dozen vessels like the HMS Bedfordshire, loaned by Britain to the United States in the early months of 1942, were actually fishing trawlers outfitted with guns and depth charges to help ward of U-boats attacking tankers and freighters along the East Coast. Many of these tankers and freighters were carrying fuel and supplies bound for Britain.

On Friday, as they do every year, the U.S. Coast Guard, the British and Canadian governments and the people of the Outer Banks will hold a ceremony at the cemetery to commemorate those four sailors and the others who were never found. And for just the second time, Sub-Lt. Cunningham’s son will be there.

“For 70 years, give or take, the American people have been putting themselves through a great deal of trouble to commemorate those British seamen who died during the war,” Cunningham said by phone from his home near Liverpool. “It’s their way of saying thank you to us, and is my way of acknowledging their thanks.”

Please click on the Charlotte Observer to read Mr. Stradings article. It’s truly a case where “less is more”. There are historical details that probably wouldn’t be included in class text books.

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