Some 150 young and older people attended a plaque unveiling ceremony at the Coolham airfield D-Day memorial to commemorate the 15 young airmen – one Canadian, six British and eight Polish – who gave their lives while serving at Coolham airfield to support the D Day landings 75 years ago.
Many more people took the opportunity to walk around the airfield and visit the 15 oak trees, planted by Horsham District Council 25 years ago, where a further plaque was unveiled, and many posters were erected telling the stories of that eventful summer of 1944.
The visitors included the grandsons of Adam Sworniowski, born in Krakow, Poland who died 75 years ago at the age of 26 while dive bombing enemy positions. His P51 Mustang was hit by flak, but after bailing out successfully between Bayeux and Caen, he was shot by a German tank crew while attempting to escape into woods.
The Chairman of Horsham District Council, Cllr Kate Rowbottom, unveiled a plaque showing photographs of the young men who died, the layout of the airfield and the location of the trees which were planted in their memory 25 years ago.
Coolham airfield was one of seven Advanced Landing Grounds, which were built in Kent and Sussex in 1943 and 1944 to ensure air superiority during the greatest coastal invasion in history, as the Allied Forces landed in France on June 6 1944 to begin the task of freeing the oppressed nations of Europe from Hitler’s armies.
Construction of Coolham Airfield began in August 1943 and was completed in April 1944. The first mission was flown on April 26 Missions were flown virtually every day during May and June. Activities on the Airfield were terminated on July 15 1944. Altogether, some 7 fighter squadrons were based at Coolham.
Cllr Rowbottom commented: “We thank these young men who flew from here across the English Channel to ensure our country’s freedom so that, now, 75 years later we can enjoy the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of Shipley and Coolham.”
The Airfield now contains a plaque with photographs of the airmen who died. There are also many posters around the airfield describing events which took place in that eventful summer of 1944.
All are invited to visit Coolham Airfield to commemorate those who died while serving there, and remember their part in the final drive to Victory in Europe. This can be done at any time and the Airfield can be entered on paths from Smithers Hill lane (close to the Countryman Pub and George and Dragon) and the B2139 just South of Coolham Crossroads (close to the Selsey Arms).