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.

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.

2nd Lt. Herb Schiff and my father, sunburned, their lips cracking, from the relentless sun and wind of  Ascension Island in 1942. They were two of the original officers who built Wideawake Field. Herb survives at the age of 93.

The design is beautiful and the only reason I'm not sharing it here is that Mr. Underwood hasn't give me the okay to make it public yet. But the idea behind it is to honor the field, built by the Americans on this British island, as well as honor the "birds" of all kinds that have been the denizens of this field through the decades.

That includes the Wideawake Tern and the Masked Booby that made their home on the volcanic island where the runway was blasted into the landscape seventy years ago--and were always a big nuisance to the pilots--though as Mr. Underwood points out, those birds were there first!  Honored as well will be  Douglas DC-3 Dakota that plied that runway all those years ago and the Eurofighter Typhoon used by the RAF today.

Peter Hurd painting of Wideawake Field created for Life Magazine during the war. My grandparents cut this out and had it framed while my father was on Ascension.

As a background for the four-stamp cover, the stamp cover mock-up as a background a new drawing that is similar to, but not copied from the Peter Hurd painting of the runway that appeared in Life Magazine during the war. 

I've used my web site Ascension Island Wideawakes as a way to preserve all the information that turned up at our family home, in my father's files, in my grandmother's scrapbooks, in the books and letters I sorted, about my father's Corps of Engineers unit and its time on Ascension. I discovered all these things after my father's death in 2010.

This airfield was just one little puzzle piece in an enormous worldwide campaign to defeat the cruelties and injustice of Nazism in Germany and militarism in Japan. All the pieces are of interest to history: the Ascension deal, for example, appears to have been on the table before America entered the war as part of FDR and Churchill's wily Lend-Lease agreements. And as a writer and journalist I have learned how much of this material is fragile and lost over time. How hard it is for people to sort through the raw material.

So I sorted it myself and used it in little stories I wrote for a blog about the Field. Some of the material I sent to the archives of the Ascension Island Heritage Society. Some is still with me here. 

My next goal, once I get this book on the history of apricot orchards in the Santa Clara Vally completed, it to book a ticket on the RMS St. Helena for a slow boat to Ascension. It is supposed to be an amazing trip.

In the meanwhile I will keep you posted on the upcoming release of the Ascension Island 70th Anniversary of Wideawake Field stamps. This is a great way to honor the World War II alliance between America and Great Britain. We saved the world together. Wideawake Field--an impossible project completed in just 90 days--is one example of why we prevailed.

The pilots said, "Miss Ascension? Your wife gets a pension." Look it up on Google Earth. It is really out in the middle of nowhere! This is another Peter Hurd painting.

This blogpost first appeared on Robin Chapman News.

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