The message from the St Helena page on Facebook captured the exuberant spirit of St Helena’s Day 2013. “Whoever you are and what ever you’re doing,” it said, “St Helena loves you. Happy St Helena’s Day everyone!”
The words were supposedly those of the island itself, possibly ghost-written by Johnny Clingham, far from home in the UK.
And then “St Helena” added “I don’t feel a day over 511!”
Once again, Saints marked the anniversary of their island’s discovery in 1502 by staging a celebration out of all proportion to the size of its population.
One of the star turns was a recreation of Longwood House, home of the deposed Napoleon – played with imperial grandeur by housing executive Andy Crowe, seated on a procession float with a lawn of real grass.
The day began, as ever, with the formal commemorations, with the police force joining the parade in front of the court house for the first time since New Horizons youth centre took on responsibility for the big day.
Acting governor Owen O’Sullivan watched from the entrance to The Castle, carrying his daughter on his hip, as the drummers of the Scouts band led a strong contingent of Cubs, Guides, Brownies and Rainbows.
There was a speech of welcome by Miss St Helena, and the Bishop led prayers.
Every one of the runners who slogged up Sidepath and down through Jamestown deserved a medal – and they all got one, handed out as they staggered into the Mule Yard. There were plenty of them, too.
Then it was on to the novelty sports – a recent addition to the celebrations – with sack races, egg-and-spoon, wheelbarrow antics, hoop-rolling with old tyres, and the spectacle of groups of three people trying to waddle along the seafront with their feet tied to wooden “skis”.
We’re not told who donated their underwear for competitors to put on over their clothing in the ever-popular dressing-up race. Some of it was sexy, and some of it was not. And some of the chaps seemed more adept than others at donning ladies’ scanties.
The visiting ship RFA Black Rover provided a backdrop to the racing, sitting just offshore with bunting fluttering from bow to stern. Its crew was invited to take part in the celebrations.
The sporting theme continued into the afternoon, with one of the entries in the procession from the hospital marking St Helena’s participation in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The Waterwitch, the fast sloop that brought many captured slave-running ships to St Helena in the 19th century, sailed down through Upper Jamestown and Main Street. Her young crew peered out, looking suitably bewildered.
She was followed by a spectacular mobile re-creation of Napoleon’s Longwood House – with the man himself played by housing executive Andy Crowe.
He performed the same role a few weeks earlier for a BBC film crew making a film about Bonaparte.
Someone presumably thought he’d be right for the role, given that sorting out St Helena’s housing problems will require a campaign strategist of Napoleonic proportions…
A delighted Michel Dansoisne-Martineau, writing on his blog, declared the work by Charlie George, “a success”, adding: “Happy Feast of St Helena!”
The red-coated French troops that marched down the street, with plumed shako hats, were eminently more attractive than the entourage of senior officers who came into exile on St Helena with Boney in 1815.
The achievement of George and Charlie Benjamin in rescuing St Helena’s ebony plant from apparent extinction in 1980 was recalled by a banner worn by their niece, Jackie.
George spotting a few specimens of the long-lost plant growing at the foot of a steep cliff near the Asses Ears, and Charlie bravely climbed down to take cuttings – re-emerging with a flower preserved between his teeth.
The banner also paid tribute to Quentin Cronk, the Cambridge University botanist who was with them on the day – who later went on to earn an international reputation.
And so day turned to evening, with fireworks launched from the RFA Black Rover, and music by The Big Easy at the Mule Yard, by now re-named The First And Last.
When the last rocket had fizzled from the sky, lead organiser Nick Stevens was photographed smiling, and looking well-pleased.
Saints and island-watchers in the UK had been thinking of the island too.
Michael Dean, who recently completed a stint as the island’s tourism chief, sent a Facebook message to report that a St Helena’s Day dance in Wigglesworth, Bedfordshire, had been a great success.
Millie Evemy wished a happy St Helena’s Day to all her friends on Facebook – and a happy 18th birthday to her son Luke.
Ascension Heritage Society also added its congratulations, noting that “most” records agreed that 21 May 1502 was the date of St Helena’s discovery (it has been suggested that it may actually have been discovered on the other feast day of St Helena, on 18 August).
Doreen Gatien, now living in California, told readers of her Christian blog: “On this day, Saints living all over the world must feel as I do, ever, ever, ever so thankful to have been born and raised in such a paradise.”
In London, government minister Mark Simmonds sent a message to his followers on Twitter:
Delighted to see the St Helena flag flying over the Foreign Office today, marking St Helena Day.
The governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean followed suit, tweeting:
And Clare Stringer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds tweeted (yes, she did):
Another message announced a celebration at Government House on the Falkland Islands – home to just over 100 St Helenians.
Falklands Twitter user Gavin Short noted that May 21 was significant for another reason – it was the date British troops landed at San Carlos to begin the islands’ recapture from Argentinian invaders.
31 years ago today freedom stepped ashore in the Falklands although it took many more terrible days before we were liberated.Thank you all.
On the island, Neil George posted photographs on Facebook, and added the message:
JUST GOT HOME FROM THE SEAFRONT, CELEBRATING R NATIONAL DAY, AWESOME DAY OUT WITH THE FAMILY. ROCK ON MY SWEET ST HELENA.
More than a hundred pictures of St Helena’s Day 2013, by Neil George, Barbara George, Barry Hubbard and New Horizons, can be found here.