The magnificent aerial adventures of Sir Anthony ‘Mark’ Selway

The 20-year old Pilot Officer Selway arrived at Tangmere in September 1929 .
The 20-year old Pilot Officer Selway arrived at Tangmere in September 1929 .

Anthony – always known as Mark in the Royal Air Force – Selway arrived in September 1929 at RAF Tangmere, his first posting after Cranwell.

After stepping off the train at Chichester railway station, the young pilot officer, in civilian clothes and carrying two suitcases, was met by a RAF driver in a Trojan van, a curiosity in itself with solid tyres and a two-stroke engine that was started by pulling a cord. On arriving at the aerodrome, he soon felt at home when he came across familiar faces, cadets he had known at Cranwell.

Mark Selway straps on his parachute before taking off from RAF Tangmere in his No. 1 Squadron Siskin.

Mark Selway straps on his parachute before taking off from RAF Tangmere in his No. 1 Squadron Siskin.

Selway had requested Upavon as his first posting because there he could fly agile Gamecock fighters and was disappointed when he received his posting to Tangmere. However, he was soon to change his mind when he realised that Tangmere was a premier fighter station. He joined ‘A’ Flight of No 1 Squadron equipped with Armstrong Whitworth Siskin biplane fighters and commanded by a distinguished wartime pilot, Squadron Leader Eustace Grenfell.

Selway’s welcoming interview with Grenfell took him by surprise when he was told: “If I catch you low flying, I’ll have you flogged!” Selway soon settled into squadron life, learning that the task of the two Siskin squadrons on the aerodrome – Nos 1 and 43 – was to intercept enemy aircraft coming over to attack England. The main threat in these days was thought to be from the much larger French air force!

The pilots regularly practised battle flight climbs to 20,000 feet during which they often suffered from lack of oxygen. They also practised aerobatics, formation flying, cross country exercises and ‘cloud flying’.

This involved flying in cloud on basic instruments consisting of an airspeed indicator, an altimeter and an instrument that looked like a carpenter’s spirit level to determine the position of the wings in relation to the horizon. There was also ‘diving on ground targets’ – at the edge of the aerodrome was set up a target on which the pilots would dive and take photographs through their guns with a camera gun. Instead of firing bullets, a picture was taken when the trigger was pressed and from which the accuracy of the attack could be analysed.

Air Marshal Sir Anthony Mark Selway

Air Marshal Sir Anthony Mark Selway

No 43 Squadron was No 1’s great rival and both squadrons were keen to take up friendly combat during the daily flying exercises. No 1 Squadron’s Siskin engines were supercharged and would often fare better in these mock battles when the aircraft met above 10,000 feet. However, below this level, the non-supercharged No 43 Squadron aircraft would usually win the engagement.

It was not all work though and in an evening, an observer would often see Selway and his fellow junior pilots setting off from the aerodrome in a very old car for a pub crawl around the lanes of Sussex – no breathalysers in those days!

In April 1930, Air Vice Marshal Hugh Dowding – later to be the head of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain – arrived at Tangmere on one of his inspections. Even in those days he was known as ‘Stuffy’.

During his visit he appeared concerned about the amount of alcohol consumed, particularly at lunch – elsewhere there had been quite a few ‘after lunch’ crashes – and gave the following advice to No 1 Squadron: “A glass of greeting may be excusable but a repetition is seldom warranted”.

After leaving Tangmere, Selway was selected to be an instructor and, after qualifying, was posted to instruct at the Central Flying School. By 1938, he was commanding a squadron. During the Second World War he saw action in the Middle East and North Africa and was awarded the DFC in 1940.

After the war, he held a series of increasingly senior commands until his retirement from the RAF in 1965. He was invested as Knight Commander of the Bath in 1960. Air Marshal Sir Anthony Selway KCB DFC died in 1984.

This article is the 45th in a series of monthly articles on the people of RAF Tangmere. More information on the Museum, including opening times and entry prices can be found on the website.

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