Discovering Selham's airfield

Her young children's fascination for trains has led Tania Pons on a remarkable journey of her own, back to the days when what are now polo grounds near Selham served as a Fleet Air Arm airfield during the second world war.

Tania, 42, who lives in Midhurst, has spent the past two years researching her Selham Airfield Project.

It culminates in an event there on Saturday, October 2, bringing together wartime veterans who served at Royal Naval Air Station Cowdray Park, as it was known, for the unveiling of a plaque commemorating its past.

She explained how it started: "We got a DVD about the old Midhurst branch railway lines, to watch with the children, David who is four and Cristina, who is six. They both love trains.

"It mentioned in this DVD there was an airfield just off the old branch line between Midhurst and Selham.

"This was the first I had heard of it, even though I was brought up in this area. I was intrigued."

She went to Midhurst library to find out more, but found instead there was very little information available.

"But a very helpful librarian introduced me to Bridget Howard (the Midhurst Society's historian) and that set me off on this project."

Tania's research has been a complex undertaking which she says has been quite an eye-opener, introducing her to a 'whole new world', and she is hoping to write a book about the airfield and its people for publication next year.

She has traced many people with memories of the base, from Air Training Corps cadets and land girls to its commanding officer for a period of the war, Lt Commander John Moffat, now 90 and living in Scotland, whose torpedo helped sink the Bismarck in 1941.

Wartime records from the Fleet Air Arm archives have been scrutinised to help tell the story of the base.

Royal Naval Air Station Cowdray Park was a satellite service station to HMS Daedalus, the Royal Navy's coastal airfield at Lee-on-Solent, near Portsmouth.

Its role was to maintain and store aircraft for when they were needed. Personnel, while they were stationed there, became part of the local scene, meeting – and in some cases marrying – local girls and land girls at dances held at the Empire Hall in nearby Graffham.

Two of the airfield's hangars survive. The commemorative plaque to be unveiled on October 2, funded jointly by the Midhurst Society and Chichester District Council, will later be placed on one of them, the Swath Moor barn at the original entrance to the airfield on the Selham road.

Tania's project, now completed, is destined for the Fleet Air Arm archives at RNAS Yeovilton.

The ceremony she has organised on October 2 is at midday at the former airfield and members of the public are welcome to attend. A number of veterans from RNAS Cowdray Park's wartime past will be there.

The unveiling of the plaque will be conducted by Capt Jock Alexander, a serving Royal Navy pilot.