Ascension Island – May/June 1972

Ex. Rabelais

E Troop E21/R241

Operating in two phases to DCN anchor stations at STANBRIDGE and CYPRUS

Inauspicious start with the usual delays at South Cerney (Air Movements) and Lyneham.  The RAF employed their usual ‘Hurray up and wait’ system. The outbound flight was via the Isla du Sal in the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa where the accommodation was in the Portuguese Air Force Sgts Mess We were made very welcome. They sang Portuguese folk songs to us and we replied with Rugby songs; we think we had a very good night but the memory is a little blurred! At one point someone asked the Duty Sgt if we could see his pistol;  it was kindly passed across and promptly stripped down. Unfortunately none of us (including him) could put it back together!

Map

Ascension Island is approximately 7 miles by 7 miles in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean more than 5 thousand miles from the nearest Land, No rain on the coast and 120 inches p.a. on the Mountain.  The island is basically volcanic rock with very little vegetation apart from ‘Green Mountain’ virtually in the centre of the island. There is also one area inland that is actually below Sea Level where the temperatures are unbelievably high!

On Ascension, we landed at Wideawake Airfield (so named because of the Wideawake Terns which nest on the island). The airbase was operated by the USAF as a base for bomber training in the Atlantic. Arrival formalities were pretty minimal and the crew were soon off to the various locations that we had been allocated around the island. The USAF provided vehicles to move the cabins into location as we were only able to take one Landover with us. This Landover was jealously guarded by the ED’s which meant the Troop Admin bods had to requisition an old Ford van for their use. Transport on the island was pretty scarce.

The accommodation area was located at English Bay, in very basic ‘concrete boxes’ which gave us only 4 walls, a door and a roof. Camp beds (army issue…ugh) and the floor was where we kept our personal gear. Not a lot of luxury on this trip! Immediately next to our accommodation site was the BBC World Service Atlantic Transmitter site with a huge array of very big aerials and masts.

The equipment sites were a little way away from the accommodation with the transmitter being the furthest on Donkey Plain (Jack-ass Flats to the Yanks). Putting op the 80ft masts in the very hot dry conditions with ground that was solid rock, brought its’ own problems. We bent quite a few of the mast pins and copper earth spikes in the process!  It was slightly easier at the Receiver site – just as well as we had more ‘sticks’ to put up. The effort putting mast pins and earth rods was tremendous and all completed on the day we landed. (The photo of Orph, outside the bedroom, just about asleep with beret on the back of his head bears witness to this)

Me

Having worked like Trojans for the first 24 hours and established comms back to the UK, things quickly dropped into a regular shift pattern. The Duty TE tech was based in the accommodation area at English Bay and acted as telephone orderly, only going to site for crypto changes and the rare breakdown. The BBC World Service powerful transmitters next door made conversing on the telephone ‘interesting’. It was also picked up and played on FUB’s hi-fi speakers without any connections!

The Troop Bar (essential to morale!) was open air and with a constant wind of around 20 mph, which you had to take account of when playing darts (cross wind). Music was provided by FUB and ‘fairy lights’ by the ED’s. Bread was produced on the island (delicious old fashioned bread) 5 days per week at the bakery in George Town which the Troop SSgt , Mick Jennings collected at the same time as going for more bar stock. (Tenant’s Export Lager – cans with girlie pictures on them.)

Not long after arriving on Ascension, we were lucky to witness a rare event at the airfield. A C5 Galaxy arrived (delivering a huge generator). It needed the whole of the runway and seemed to breath-in as it went between the hills either side of the runway. It seemed like the whole island population turned out for this and every vantage point was taken.

Galaxy

There were few social places on the island but those that were there (Two Boats village, C&W beach club and the American Volcano club on the base) made us very welcome as there were few visitors to the Island. (Ascension Island was, and still is we believe, classed as a Restricted Area preventing visitors from just ‘dropping in’!). Initially getting to them when off-shift was difficult, as we couldn’t always get a lift from the ED’s or Troop Admin. This was quickly solved when FUB won a green Hillman Imp from an American when playing Spoof in the Volcano Club. That car was then available to off-shift people to go sight-seeing and socialising.

the car

The ‘Boss’ (Capt. Chris Dakin) organised a trip to the NASA tracking station on the island. The tour was very interesting (enlightening!) and the NASA Team were really friendly. Amongst the many keepsakes they gave were a whole load of cloth and plastic patches for most of the US space missions up till that moment. (Trivia – if you listen to Jeff Wayne’s’ ‘War of the Worlds’ the Ascension tracking station gets a mention right at the end!).

One of the NASA guys took Bones, Ted Shimmin, and Taff on a hike to the top of Green Mountain – apparently the path to the top, complete with tunnels, was built over many years for a wife of a previous Portuguese governor and a huge Gold fish pond constructed at the top surrounded by a Bamboo forest so that the lady could enjoy the ambiance!  The pond was still there as the photo of Bones witnesses. The lower slopes of Green Mountain, was also grazed by a small herd of Friesian Cows to supply fresh milk to the island.

Cpl Keith Jones. R SIGNALS. GREEN MOUNTAIN 1972

The Volcano Club and its full sized shuffleboard, was very popular– we became quite proficient. The base also boasted a very small ‘Gift Shop’ (Orph bought a Seiko ‘Bellmatic’ watch there – it still works brilliantly 42 years later…also several Zippos!)

A high point of the exercise social side was the Baseball/Cricket challenge with the USAF – We hosted them for Cricket on a concrete wicket at English Bay (which we won) and they returned the compliment at their base (Softball which they won) – they put on a huge barbecue with the centrepiece being a huge fish – Yahoo – Taff recalls.

The natural isolation of Ascension Island was great for wildlife and we were able to see huge turtles drag themselves up on the beach to lay eggs and on the same night watched baby turtles scrabbling to get to the water. That was a wonderful experience! Taff and Owen experienced walking through the Wideawake Tern Colony. We captured a baby octopus from a large rock pool and ‘tested’ it’s camouflage abilities out on a tartan blanket. We swam with the black fish and threw crabs to them to witness the feeding frenzies. Not to mention Owen Evans frenzy with a machete, liberally attacking Black Fish!

We went night fishing off the quay and caught some great fish which we cooked and ate; until the sharks came in – we hooked a very large Shark which we tried to land but we straightened the gaff trying to pull it out!! This was also where the BBC equipment cooling water was fed out so it really encouraged fish…

An unforgettable trip

Memories – John (Taff) Mugford & Orph Mable

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