FAMOUS AUTHOR RETURNS TO THE ISLAND

AUGUST 2001 - Writer, author and journalist Duff Hart-Davis (pictured right) returned to the island for a short visit during August in order to gather material for newspaper articles for the Mail on Sunday. In his articles he will attempt to convey the unique, strange and fascinating nature of Ascension. This should help towards raising the profile of the island, and should hopefully attract investment in the form of tourism and other commercial areas by spreading the word that Ascension is "open for business".  

Duff Hart-Davis is no stranger to the island; in fact he first came here on a two-day assignment in 1966 to cover the opening of the Cable & Wireless Earth Station on Donkey Plain for the Sunday Telegraph. He became fascinated by Ascension and its story, and eventually returned for a month in 1968 under the sponsorship of Cable & Wireless in order to start work on a written history. Ascension: The Story of a South Atlantic Island was eventually published in 1972. At around the same time he also published an adventure novel "somewhat influenced by my visit to Ascension" called The Gold of St. Matthew. It is now difficult to find original copies of the History of Ascension by Duff Hart-Davis, but the author intends to update the work to include new chapters about historical events that have happened since the 1970's - for example the Falklands War - and to publish the resultant work in paperback format. This should mean that the price of a copy would be less than 10.

Duff Hart-Davis is 65 years of age. He is married with two children and lives in Uley, Gloucestershire. He wrote for The Sunday Telegraph on and off from its inception in 1961, until 1985, and he has written the Country Matters column in The Independent since 1986. He has also written about 30 books, half of which have been ghosted for other people. Among the people he has written for are Gen. Sir Peter de la Billiere, the British Gulf War commander. Duff co-operated with the General to produce the famous autobiographical work Looking For Trouble.


MAJOR IMPROVEMENT TO HISTORICAL SITES ON CROSS HILL THANKS TO T.A. ENGINEER UNIT

JULY 2001 - A T.A. Engineer squadron from Newcastle-upon-Tyne under the command of Major Charles Waddell R.E. visited the island recently. The members of 72 (TEE) Fd Sqn (AS) (V) were keen to undertake some tasks for the good and benefit of the community of Ascension Island, and consequently were kind enough to re-paint the Guns from HMS Hood, and the Victorian Cannon on Cross Hill on behalf of the Society. They also removed an enormous thorn bush from the site of the cannon. Dave Bones, the Heritage Society Chairman said; "Thanks to the army's hard work, we have seen a major improvement in the quality of one of our most important places of historical interest." Two REME engineers attached to the Squadron carried out some work on the WWII US Army Jeep, one of the most prized exhibits owned by the Society. WO2 (AQMS) John Colston and Cpl Ian Brown managed to get the old jeep running again. Thanks to Mr. Jamie Thomson of Turners, whose company was good enough to provide a battery, lubricants and also the loan of some tools.

 
Above - WO2 (AQMS) Colston, Lt. Harding RE, Dave Bones (Heritage Society Chairman) and Cpl Brown pose next to one of the newly painted cannon on Cross Hill.   Above - WO2 (QMSI) Billy Hardwick, Maj. Charles Waddell R.E., Lt. Simon Harding R.E., Cpl Ian Brown and WO2 (AQMS) John Colston preparing to go for a spin in our WWII U.S. Army Jeep.

BACKGROUND - THE GUNS OF H.M.S. HOOD

These two 5.5 inch guns were manufactured and fitted to H.M.S. Hood during World War I. They were removed from the Hood during a refit in 1935 in Malta, and put into store. In 1941 they were shipped to Ascension Island and mounted on Cross Hill, to provide protection for the island in the event of bombardment from the sea. They were used for practice shots, but these unfortunately interfered with the delicate telegraph cable equipment in use.

Graham Avis writes - Only the guns themselves were from the Hood, the gun shields are a different pattern to those used on the Hood. They remain there today, the last part of HMS Hood that exists, as the ship herself was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck in the Denmark Strait, with only 3 survivors out of her crew of almost 1500.

Were the guns ever fired in anger? Well, yes they were - on one occasion. November 1941 saw a German U-Boat pack operating in the South Atlantic including U-124, under the command of submarine ace Kapitanleutnant Jochen Mohr. U-124 was having a troublesome cruise due to contaminated lubricating oil stocks. She was meeting with some success however, until on the 2nd of December she had sunk the then neutral U.S merchant ship Sagadahoc, and Mohr immediately started thinking about his coming court-martial for attacking a neutral ship. Worse was to come however, as the British identified the U-Boats supply ships and sank them. With the threat of submarines, the cruisers sinking the supply ships did not stop to pick up survivors. U-boats converged on the area, and rescued the 400 plus survivors. The submarines shared the survivors out, and dangerously overloaded, set about returning to occupied France. U-124 was carrying 104 survivors in addition to her crew, but it occurred to Mohr, that the only way to get such a large number to occupied France was to do it as soon as possible on the surface. This could best be achieved if the British could be convinced that the U-Boats were still in the South Atlantic. So he decided to attack Ascension.

On December the 9th at 1200, U-124 approached Ascension Island on the surface, looking to either sink a ship, or shell the Cable Station. He was quickly spotted and shelled by the Hood guns. The gunfire from Fort Bedford was far too accurate, and the U-Boat was forced to crash dive. However the ruse worked; the British were convinced the submarines were around Ascension Island, and all the U-Boats reached France without further trouble. He was never court-martialled as by the time he reached France, Germany had declared war on the USA following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour.

 

BACKGROUND - THE WILLYS JEEP

The Willys Jeep was used in the construction of Wideawake Airfield by the United States Army in 1942, and is the only surviving jeep of this period on the island. It was restored to working order by teenagers Nicholas Henry, Darren Benjamin, Mark Yon, Mark Henry, Jeremy Thomas, Christopher Yon and Ian Thomas.

The vehicle is a tribute to the officers and men of the United States Armed Forces who lost their lives building and operating Wideawake Airfield during the Second World War.
It was presented by the children of Ascension to Col. Guy Childress USAF representing the United States Forces and community on Ascension on the 4th of July 1989.

BACKGROUND - THE VICTORIAN CANNON ON CROSS HILL

These pieces are to be found on Cross Hill just below the guns of H.M.S. Hood. The correct technical term for these weapons is "7 inch rifled muzzle loader Mk 1", and they were built around 1865 and weigh about 6 and a half tons.

The Mk I was adopted in 1865 as a broadside or pivot gun for frigates, to replace the 7 inch Armstrong breech loaders and 68 pounder smooth-bore guns. The production run of this type was 331, and they were superceded by the MK II and Mk III between 1866 and 1868. A number of this type were mounted ashore for coast defence, which was what has happened to the Ascension Island guns. These guns were manufactured using the original Armstrong shrunken coil construction technique. Wrought iron coils were shrunk one over the other in such a manner that the inner tube was placed in a state of compression, and the outer portions in a state of tension, the amount of tension was so regulated that each coil would perform its maximum amount of useful effect in resisting the pressures from within. Finally a forged breech piece was placed over the powder chamber to enhance the longitudinal stress. When used it fired a 112 pound studded shell propelled by a 14 pound charge; the muzzle velocity was 1,500 feet per second. The range was 190 - 4000 yards.


 

Last revised on the 1st of September 2002. For any comments or questions about the Society and its work, or this website, please e-mail us via this link in Ascension.