Handy Island

Handy Island
"The Air War Finds A Handy South Atlantic Island" was the caption on this Peter Hurd painting of Ascension Island, from Life Magazine, April 1945. It was the only place for pilots to refuel between Natal and West Africa.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Thinking About Ascension

The engineers were hot and thirsty. They had only the water they brought with them and were limited to a quart a day per man, as they worked 24-hours a day in 12-hour shifts. In this photo they look almost punchy. Young and fit: they got the job done. By the 90-day deadline. Naturally!

For those of you with fathers who served in the 38th Engineers, I wanted to write a short post today to let you know that I am presently working on a proposal for a book about the last year of World War II, in which my father served. But my project after that will be about the 38th Engineers on Ascension.

The last year of the war was full of all kinds of drama. But the building of Wideawake Field had its own unique and remarkable story. The two stories are fascinating, each in his own way.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"New" Historic Photo of Wideawake's Construction

The engineers on Ascension Island, not long after they landed and began their work. My father is in the back row, sixth from photo right, wearing his envelope cap and laughing. Looks like he needs a shave.

Thanks to Michael Murray, the son of another World War II veteran whose father served with mine on Ascension, we have a new "Wideawake" photo for the record.

It was taken not long after the engineers landed and had begun to grapple with their task of building an impossible airfield in the middle of nowhere.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

How the Col. Got His Groove

William Ashley Chapman on Ascension Island in 1988.

I am working on an article about my father's unit on Ascension Island during World War II and I realize the one thing I haven't written much about here is that he returned to the island in 1988. He wanted to go back in 1982--for the fortieth anniversary of the completion of Wideawake Field--and started pestering anyone and everyone he could. He had to do that, because there were no civilian flights to Ascension in the 1980s.

He was a retired officer, a "full bird Colonel" as they say in the Army, so he could get people in the military to take his calls. But after a short chat any enlisted clerk could tell this old guy didn't have the one thing needed to get him there, i.e. pull. Ascension Island wasn't for tourists. It was a priority base. I think a flight there is unlikely. Sir.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Special Delivery Sand

From Long Beach, Ascension Island, South Atlantic Ocean.

Today, I got a surprise package from a woman I know--but whom I've never met. She and I have emailed one another quite a bit since my father died.

She was stationed on Ascension Island serving with the USAF when Dad died--and with me here and she on Ascension, she helped me arrange to donate my father's World War II Ascension Island papers to the Island Heritage Society.

Friday, August 24, 2012

When The Engineers Started Rockin' on Ascension Island

The "Wideawakes" of Ascension Island, photo from about 1943.

It has been seventy years ago this year that the 38th Engineers landed on Ascension Island, tasked with building a secret air base in just 90 days. They didn't have enough water. They weren't resupplied nor did they get mail for months. They worked around the clock in two twelve-hour shifts until some of them dropped from exhaustion.

And they made their deadline and helped the Allies win the war. My father talked about his assignment there a lot at the end of his life. But he never mentioned the dance band!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Stamp to Honor Wideawake Field's 70th Anniversary

My father, Colonel William Ashley Chapman, on Ascension Island in the 1980s.

II've just had the nicest email from a fellow called Tim Underwood, who works for the company that produces the stamps for the Ascension Island Post Office--famous among philatelists around the world. 

Mr. Underwood let me know that Ascension Island will be honoring the 70th Anniversary of Wideawake Field with a new stamp cover and is at present awaiting Her Majesty's approval of the design. Now that is a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ah, The Feel of Castile With Salt

(From my father's papers about his work as an Army engineer in the first half of World War II, now in the archives of the Ascension Island Heritage Society. )

Air crews flying through Ascension Island during World War II got special treatment: they got to use a little distilled water for washing up. Photo courtesy US Army Air Corps. 1943

by William Ashley Chapman

Living conditions for the base personnel and the air crews passing through were primitive. For the base personnel--two years in a flapping tent was a memorable experience.

Our desalination plant produced a limited supply of fresh water; enough for drinking, cooking, laundry, and vehicle radiators, but never enough for bathing.