Family members of a Royal Navy sailor who washed ashore on Jost Van Dyke during the Battle of the Caribbean in World War II returned to the territory this week to commemorate his rescue here.
Bernard King was one of 24 survivors who drifted at sea for 21 days before washing up in Saddle Bay, JVD, in 1943. His Royal Navy ship was torpedoed by a German submarine on his 17th birthday.
Members of the JVD community took the stranded sailors in and tended to them until they were able to return home, according to Jessica Graham, who gave a brief history during a Tuesday ceremony on JVD.
Also during the event, Mr. King’s son Christopher paid tribute to his father, commemorating the survivors and the people of JVD who welcomed them. He was joined by other family members, including his 28-year-old son Matthew.
“We’ve been here twice already, and we intend to come back here probably every three to four years,” Mr. King said. “This trip is specifically because of the commemoration. This coming Sunday is for the veterans of World War II.”
At the JVD Primary School on Tuesday morning, Governor John Rankin, Second District Representative Mitch Turnbull, Ms. Graham, and Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles spoke briefly about the 1943 rescue.
Ms. Graham said that the members of the Methodist Church on JVD fed and helped the stranded sailors.
Mr. Rankin read an excerpt from Olivia Callwood’s journal, which documented the rescue, noting that the sailors “couldn’t stop drinking the coconut” water.
The governor also noted that this week is Remembrance Week, which is celebrated by Commonwealth nations to commemorate armed forces members who have died in the line of duty.
“We remember those men — your father, Chris — who were stranded in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, after 21 days rowed and made their way here to Jost Van Dyke,” he said. “We thank the people of Jost Van Dyke.”
Mr. Turnbull thanked the King family for their continued expression of gratitude.
“You have been coming back to say thank you and recognise what happened and to be able to share the story. You are, in fact, one of us,” he said. “On behalf of the people of the Second District, we are extremely thankful for you taking this time and that you remember history and that you remember legacy.”
Mr. King took the stage to share a few words, but became overwhelmed with emotion while speaking about his father, who recently died. His son spoke in his stead, thanking the people of the island and stating that the King family had a donation to give the school.
Later in the day, Mr. King told the Beacon how his family reconnected with the Virgin Islands.
“My father never really talked about [the sinking] because he was so emotional that he couldn’t speak about it. It was my mom’s brother who contacted the foreign office in England to find out about what actually happened,” he explained. “My mom contacted the governor in Tortola, and that started everything off.”
Mr. King said the reconnection with the territory started in 2006, when his father visited the island to show his appreciation and to visit a man who was instrumental to his rescue.
Mr. King now lives in Florida, and his family intends to continue their ties with the territory.
“We love the [BVI],” he said. “We like to go to different restaurants, swim in the sea, and take tours.”
Mr. Rankin took the family up a mountain overlooking Saddle Bay earlier that day.