Race against the sunset

Ascension Island

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Did you know?

Location:
Georgetown, Ascension Island

Altitude:
1m

Biggest Challenge:
Isolated island location

Language:
English

Rainfall:
142mm

Temperature:
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.

In the distance behind the graveyard is a narrow runway. It’s from here the monthly plane that links to Ascension Island takes off.

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.”

Even in St Helena, CWGC finds people ready and willing to help us in our work.
The war graves in St Paul's Church, St Helena stand on the slopes high up on the island.
In the distance behind the graveyard is a narrow runway. It's from here the monthly plane that links to Ascension Island takes off.
The entrance to Georgetown Cemetery on Ascension Island, home to seven Commonwealth war graves
On his last visit, regional manager Simon Fletcher had only hours of daylight to rush across the island before his return flight.
In remote outposts like this we really heavily on the support of those stationed there.
Banner illustration of the Four Corners logo