Photograph of John in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference:MRP/7D/019
(L to R) 1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; 1939-45 War Medal; General Service Medal 1918-62 with clasp 'Malaya'; Efficiency Decoration
John was born on the 13th June 1920 in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. His father was called William Marsden and his mother was Gladys. Holderness was her maiden name. We don't know whether John had any brothers or sisters. William was a long serving officer in the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. He was commissioned in November 1914. Between 1938 and 1940 he commanded the battalion. We believe he was a dry cleaner in civilian life.
John attended Allhallows School in Honiton, Devon and became a Lance Corporal in their Officer Training Corps. After he left school John returned to live with his parents, who were now at 'Cherisy' on Mottram Old Road in Stalybridge, then in Cheshire.
The rising tension with Germany during 1938 and 1939 meant that the British Army was expanded. John joined his father's unit, the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on the 2nd September 1939, the day before war was declared.
In autumn 1941 the Territorial 9th Battalion sent several soldiers to Singapore to bolster the Regular 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, and John was one of these men. He had been promoted to Lieutenant by the time he left the UK. John was given command of Number 12 Platoon in C Company.
The British expected a Japanese invasion and trained to deal with one, but when it began the British forces in Malaya and Singapore could not stop it. Singapore was captured on the 15th February 1942 and John became a Prisoner of War (POW).
John was held in Singapore until October 1942 when he was moved to Haito camp in Taiwan. Prisoners here worked hard loading small stones for use in runways, and working in sugar cane fields. Conditions were terrible. There was little food, the men were plagued by insects carrying disease, and if men did fall ill the Japanese guards often refused to allow medical treatment.
In August 1943 John was moved to Shirakawa camp, also in Taiwan. Conditions were much the same; soldiers here were forced to work growing food and raising livestock for the Japanese. John stayed here until February 1945 when he was moved again to Miata camp on the Japanese island of Kyushu. John was held here until the end of the war in August.
We don't know the details of John's time as a POW, or how healthy he was when he was released. Almost all Japanese POWs had suffered from malnutrition, meaning they lost a great deal of weight, and had caught an illness of some kind.
John was back in the UK by the 18th November, when he attended a ceremony of remembrance at the Manchester Regiment Chapel in Manchester Cathedral. He must have taken to military life because a year later on the 22nd November 1946 John transferred from the Territorial Army to the Regular Army and rejoined the 1st Battalion. Between these dates he spent some time as the Commander of 2 Company at the 63rd Primary Training Centre, where recruits for the Manchester Regiment were trained.
Between January and March 1946 John married Margaret Downey in Liverpool.
On the 19th October 1946 John was given the honour of carrying the Regimental Colour of the Manchester Regiment at a parade held by the City of Manchester to honour the Regiment. He was promoted to Captain on the 13th June 1947 and in mid 1948 John sailed back to Malaya with Margaret.
His new posting was as an Air Liaison Officer (ALO). The Army in Malaya was at the beginning of its campaign against communist terrorists. A new task force was established at Headquarters Malaya District in Kuala Lumpur alongside a joint operations and intelligence centre formed by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Army. John was one of the first soldiers involved in this new cooperation between the RAF and the ground forces in the jungle. John also completed a course that would allow him to attend a Staff College in the future.
On the 5th August 1949 in Kuala Lumpur John and Margaret became parents to Nigel Peter.
John's early service in the Territorial Army was recognised on the 24th August 1951 when he was awarded the Territorial Decoration. He had returned to Europe by this time, where he again served as a Liaison Officer, this time between the British Army of the Rhine and the German civil authorities.
The 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment had been deployed to Malaya fighting Communist Insurgents since 1951, and in September 1953 John finally joined them. He became second in command of B Company and held this job until the 1st Battalion returned to the UK in 1954.
1954 also saw the end of John's Army career. He retired on the 23rd August.
We don't know what John did for the rest of his life. We believe he lived in Ashton-under-Lyne, and he may have remarried to May Shepley between January and March 1960.
John died on the 17th October 1991. He was 71 years old.