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On May 11, 1942, about 40 miles south of Ocracoke, a German submarine torpedoed and sank the British vessel HMS Bedfordshire. The 170-foot ship was one of 24 antisubmarine ships loaned to the United States by Winston Churchill.

All 37 Royal Navy sailors were lost.  The bodies of two of her crew were spotted in the surf off Ocracoke Island. They were buried in a small plot of ground adjacent to a local family's cemetery. A week later, two more bodies were found, but not identified, and were laid to rest next to the other two.

The Coast Guard maintains the small cemetery known as the British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island and flies a British flag over the graves. Every year on the Friday closest to the May 11th anniversary of the sailors’ deaths, there is a formal military ceremony to honor the British sailors.