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.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Lid is Off! Letter From Ashley on Ascension

The 38th Engineers play baseball on Ascension Island, 1943.  That's my father, swinging for the "fence" on that desolate ball field.  American soldiers played baseball all over the world during WW II.  The Red Cross often supplied the gear.

Ascension Island
November 28, 1943

"Dear Mother & Dad,

The lid is off!  I can say where I am now and also I can describe the place.

We are in the heart of the "trade winds" which makes the climate so perfect.  If it weren't for the wind we would really swelter.  The eternal unvarying strong wind sometimes gets on our nerves but it is a boon anyhow.
The topography is best described as a mother volcano surrounded by her offspring of small volcanoes.  All the hills are cones of eruption of some kind or other.  Flows of lava can be traced to some of the cones while others seemed to have caused no flow but merely popped up.  The ones that flowed have large basins in the tops of them and the wind has piled material high on the leeward side of most of them, giving them a truncated appearance.

The largest of these cones is Green Mountain, which is 2800 feet high, and is covered with vegetation near the top.  Palms of several types grow there, papaya, banana and coconut are some of them. Grass, flowers and some few (very, very few) vegetables also grow there.  The peak is covered with a jungle of bamboo.  The peak is shrouded in clouds about half the time and is very damp, which is in sharp contrast to the rest of the island.  The wind turns the exposed trees and bushes wrong side out, as it would an umbrella.

The rest of the island is just a bunch of cinder cones.  I believe there are some fifty or sixty on the 32 or so square miles of land.  They rise abruptly to heights of from 50 to 60 ft. for the tiny ones, 300 to 400 ft. for others, and some 1500 to 2000 ft and of course the big one.

The surface of the island is very rugged being covered with several different forms of lava and ash.  Parts of the island are covered with lava flows.  The top of a flow is not smooth but is very jagged and rough. [Robin note:  this is why the 38th Engineers wore out so many pairs of boots, tires on their trucks, and all sorts of other equipment. The jagged pumice and obsidian of Ascension turned everything to shreds.]

Some places are covered with loose cinder; some black and some red.  Being loose it is hard to walk on just like loose sand.  Some places are covered with ash and loose rocks of varying sizes, which seem to have been blasted there by some mighty eruption.  The Green Mt. is covered with rather hard packed soil, part of which has vegetation.

The hills or cones are quite a pretty sight with their various colors and some of them have sharp color changes on their sides.  The clouds blow in from the ocean down low and then straight up the side of the largest mountain.  Thus the saying, "It rains uphill on the back side of Green Mountain."

The prevailing color around here is brown.  Except for the sea--which changes color all the time.  Mother and Dad, I'm so glad you can now know where I am and that I am OK.  I'll write more soon.  The mail is now arriving regularly.

All my love,


A swing and a miss!

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