Walk around the North side of Lagoon Park in Bermuda, and you’ll find a secluded cemetery set back from the road side. The graveyard rests in a small valley protected from the Atlantic winds, where palm trees sway alongside tumbled headstones, ancient obelisks and marble tombs. The small cemetery is so remote and peaceful with rarely a visitor, that it’s known to locals simply as ‘The Glade’.
But read some of the headstones and you’ll discover that many of those buried here suffered far from peaceful deaths: victim to yellow fever, drowned at sea, fell onto the dock, and killed in action read just some of the stones. For this is an old cemetery belonging to the British Royal Navy, and is the last resting place of more than 1,000 servicemen who died thousands of miles from their home.
The oldest grave in The Glade dates back to 1818, the year Bermuda officially became the British headquarters for its North America & West Indies Station, replacing Halifax in Nova Scotia. Located in the remote seas of the North Atlantic, the West end of Bermuda swiftly became a formidable base for the Royal Navy. Forts, costal artillery, barracks, and a vast working dockyard soon dominated island life for centuries.
It was from Bermuda that the Royal Navy sent ships to lay siege to Baltimore and Washington DC during the War of 1812, sent ships of the line in pursuit of French and Spanish prizes, and where destroyers and submarine hunters protected the Atlantic convoys from German wolf-packs in two World Wars.
Wander through the quiet cemetery today and you’ll read names of sailors born in far off British naval bastions like Portsmouth, Plymouth and Liverpool. But what makes the cemetery particularly fascinating is the amount of detail included alongside the expected names and dates: “In memory of Wm. Phillips, a native of Heligoland,” reads one, who died in January 1840 aboard HM hulk, the Irresistible, “from rupture of a blood vessel on board”.
Look up the names of some of the ships on the gravestones, and you’ll find forgotten traces of British naval history. Take for example the grave belonging to John Hoskin, who died of yellow fever at the age of just 19, aboard HMS Euryalus.
A 36 gun frigate built near Southampton in 1801, the Euryalus saw action in the Battle of Trafalgar, engaging the French Formidable, 80, briefly becoming the British flagship after the death of Nelson. During the War of 1812, the Euryalus patrolled the Potomac, bombed Alexandria and Fort McHenry whilst being stationed in Bermuda.
The Cold War saw the need for a British naval presence in Bermuda come to an end, and the dockyard was finally closed in 1958. The old naval base fell into disrepair, and whilst some of buildings have been renovated into restaurants, a cruise ship marina, bars and a museum, many lie empty and abandoned.
Just to the South, you’ll find the old sailor’s cemetery, a forgotten reminder of perhaps the greatest navy the world has ever seen.