Race against the sunset
Ascension IslandREAD STORY
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Georgetown, Ascension Island
Isolated island location
20c – 28c
A thousand miles from the nearest mainland, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, sits an island airbase. There’s not much there beyond an airstrip, a weather station and a NASA telescope that combs the skies.
But nestled on the windy shores of Ascension Island is also one of the world’s most isolated island cemeteries.
It contains seven Commonwealth war graves. Some were buried when their ship passed through, others were stationed here. One was a South African labourer. Another, a telegraph operator from South Shields, UK.
Today, civilians can only reach the island via St Helena – a full 800 miles to the south – on the monthly flight that links the two.
CWGC’s area manager Simon Fletcher recently took the long journey to check the condition of the war graves on both islands and re-establish local connections.
“It was a race against the sunset as soon as we landed in Ascension,” he said. Within hours, he had to be back on the same plane or risk being stranded for a month.
“I only had about an hour of daylight to rush to the small cemetery and see what condition the war graves were in before rushing back to the airstrip to get home.”
Thankfully all was well. He returned safe in the knowledge those seven men, however far from home they may be, were still lying in peace in a clean, well-tended site, thanks to the generosity of the RAF personnel stationed there.
On St Helena he checked for another 14 war graves. This time maintained by the friendly team who tend the sloping churchyard of St Paul’s Cathedral on our behalf.
Aside from periodic inspections like Simon’s, the only practical way to maintain remote sites like these are through strong local relationships.
“Even in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean we find people who are willing to help us remember those who died.”