A team of Air Cadets and Staff from Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Wing have recently returned from a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Sergeant Alex MacRae and Flight Lieutenant Kirsty Burnham with the Corps Ensign

Sergeant Alex MacRae and Flight Lieutenant Kirsty Burnham with the Corps Ensign

The trip was the first visit of its kind by the members of the Air Cadet Organisation and was the first of six visits by cadets from across Central and East Region. The itinerary for the week included military visits, adventure training and conservation work.

Ascension Island is part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. Located around 4,500 miles from the United Kingdom the island is used by the Royal Air Force and United States Air Force along with lodger units such as the BBC and the European Space Agency. The island was used extensively by the British military during the Falklands War.

Following a delay of 24 hours due to weather the team boarded a Voyager aircraft from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire for the nine hour overnight flight south. For many of the group this was their first visit to the Southern Hemisphere. On arrival all personnel were shown to their accommodation and prepared for the day ahead which consisted of briefings and military visits before a relaxing afternoon by the pool in the village of Two Boats.

The first full day saw the first taste of adventure training with a day walk on the eastern side of the island with a walk from near the old NASA site to the Devils Cauldron and Weather Post ‘letterbox’ sites. The walk gave the team their first views of the dormant volcanoes, lava flows and cinder cones that make up Ascension Island. That night was spent visiting Comfortless Cove, the home of the Bonetta Cemetery, the site contains the remains of members of the crew of HMS Bonetta who were dumped ashore with yellow fever in 1838 and ultimately passed away.

With everyone awake early after sharing the beach at Comfortless Cove with the island wildlife a visit was made to Long Beach at sunrise to get a first glimpse of Green Turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs, the team was able to witness a turtle returning to the ocean just after laying her eggs. The first experience of Green Mountain filled the remainder of the morning with the walk to The Dew Pond and peak being completed in cloud and through a dense bamboo plantation. In the afternoon the beach at English Bay was home where the group could relax and unwind before an evening visit to Long Beach.

The evening visit allowed cadets and staff to watch the spectacle of Green Turtles laying their eggs on Long beach after swimming to Ascension Island from Brazil, a journey that takes six weeks to complete. Accompanied by members of the Ascension Island Government conservation team the group was able to closely witness a Green Turtle weighing approximately 200kg lay her eggs in the sand and bury them to protect them until they hatch. Cadet Sergeant Sam Raettig (18) from 2331 (St Ives) Squadron then assisted in measuring the turtle prior to it returning to the ocean.

The last full day on Ascension Island involved conservation work on Elliot’s Pass near the peak of Green Mountain. The work involved path clearing to allow access to the pass for people wanting to complete the letterbox walk. After training in the safe use of a machete the cadets and some staff got to work while the remaining staff team prepared an exceptional al fresco lunch. The afternoon was spent climbing to the top of the pile of volcanic rock known as Lady Hill for photographs with the Corps ensign that had been erected by the advance party.

Sergeant Alex MacRae and Flight Lieutenant Kirsty Burnham with the Queen's Baton

Sergeant Alex MacRae and Flight Lieutenant Kirsty Burnham with the Queen’s Baton

With the flight home not until the evening, an exciting visit to the Queens Baton Relay for the 2014 Commonwealth Games had been arranged at Georgetown, the capital of the island. After learning about the baton itself cadets and staff were able to have photos holding the baton, a truly once in a lifetime experience. After visiting a fort and the island museum the afternoon was spent in the pool at Two Boats before it was time to pack up and head for the plane home.

Cadet Sergeant Alex MacRae (17) from 1220 (March) Squadron said “I really enjoyed the trip as it allowed me to experience something unique. I would not have had this opportunity if it were not for the Air Cadet Organisation.”

Flight Lieutenant Kirsty Burnham added “This expedition was a fantastic experience for all that attended. Cadets and staff alike become part of a brilliant team that worked hard to get the most out of the trip. It was a privilege to attend.”

Stedson Stroud, Green Mountain National Park Warden & Conservation Development Officer said “The National Park at Green Mountain and the island’s military Built Heritage is a treasure not only for Ascension Island’s residents, but for visitors to behold when arriving on our shores here in the South Atlantic. Having the Bedford and Cambridgeshire Air Cadets visiting and helping to clear the old Elliott’s Pass Military Path was an extremely satisfying sight and one that I would like to see repeated often.”