A Union Jack still flies on one piece of American soil.
Two hundred and fifty years ago, the entire Atlantic coast from Maine to the Florida border was British soil. Then, of course, a hard-fought revolutionary war founded a new nation and sent tens of thousands of “redcoats” packing for home. But there’s one spot on the Atlantic coast that still honors a heroic group of British servicemen—and, despite the events of Saratoga and Yorktown, it’s still a tiny island of British soil, even though it’s surrounded on all sides by rural North Carolina.
The Outer Banks are full of ghosts from the Battle of the Atlantic.
Today the barrier islands of the Outer Banks are a quiet and picturesque backdrop for beachcombing vacationers. It’s hard to believe that just seventy years ago, the sea here was a naval graveyard. From 1942 to 1945, German U-boats lurked off the Carolinas, sinking more than 400 ships and killing 5,000 sailors in an offensive that German sailors called the “Great American Turkey Shoot.” No wonder Allied vessels who braved the Outer Banks called it “Torpedo Alley.”
Five British soldiers never made it home.
Because the U.S. had no anti-submarine patrol, the British Royal Navy sent 24 ships to safeguard shipping along the eastern seaboard. On May 12, 1942, the HMS Bedfordshire was struck by a German torpedo and went down with all hands. Citizens of Ocracoke, the tiny Outer Banks island where Blackbeard the pirate had died in 1718, buried four British sailors whose bodies had washed ashore. Over on neighboring Hatteras Island, locals had quietly buried a British sailor from the SS San Delfino near the Buxton Lighthouse the month before. A fifth Bedfordshire crewman was laid to rest by his side when his body was discovered a few days later.
Every year, the Queen sends a new flag to fly over Ocracoke.
After the war, Britain’s Commonwealth War Graves Commission began building cemeteries for the country’s war dead who had fallen overseas, eventually erecting over 350,000 new headstones in continental Europe and around the world. The two makeshift burial plots in North Carolina were leased in perpetuity to the War Graves Commission, making them, for all intents and purposes, British soil. A huge Union Jack still waves there proudly.
A white picket fence surrounds 0.052 acres of England.
The cemetery on Ocracoke Island is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, while the National Park Service tends the one on Hatteras. Every May 12, the sinking of the Bedfordshire is commemorated with a solemn graveside ceremony. Royal Navy sailors lay wreaths on the graves, while local villagers read the names of the dead in the distinctly Gaelic-derived brogue of Ocracoke Island. A bugle call of “Taps” is followed by a 21-gun salute. Visitors might recall Rupert Brooke’s words in in his famous 1914 poem “The Soldier”: “There’s some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England.”
source: Ken Jennings, CNTraveler.com