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.

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.

We learned quickly from experiences such as mine [see earlier story about my father's "near death experience" in the Atlantic rollers by clicking on the link at the end of this story] that sponge baths were the better alternative to the life and death matter of trying to bathe in the unpredictable surf.

Before we left Charleston advice was given to purchase Castile soap to take along to use with saltwater.   A saltwater shower was built at Camp Casey. One day I was lathering up, or rather "gunking up" in the shower, with my Castile soap. It really didn't work.  As luck would have it, the tank ran dry before I could rinse off, or "degunk."

There was nothing to do but climb down the cliff to the beach at South West Bay and rinse in the sea--very carefully.

By the time I had climbed back up to Camp Casey, I was just as sweaty and dirty as when I first started to shower. But at least the grime was fresh.

I wonder what happened to the rest of that Castile soap? So much for the seawater shower phase.

William Ashley Chapman

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