Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Norman Marsden

Norman Marsden : Photograph of Norman in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference:  MRP/10/011

Photograph of Norman in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MRP/10/011

Norman Marsden : (L to R) 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; Efficiency Medal

(L to R) 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; Efficiency Medal

Norman was born on the 31st January 1913 in Chorlton, Lancashire.

Norman married his first wife Sarah Ward in Manchester in 1934. They had 3 daughters and 2 sons together. During the war, the children were placed into Styal Cottage Homes for ‘destitute’ children.

Norman joined the 8th (Ardwick) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the 31st March 1937. This was a unit of the Territorial Army (TA), so Norman kept his civilian home and job and trained as a soldier during evenings and weekends, as well as an annual training camp lasting around 2 weeks. His service number was 3529295.

The TA was embodied, or called into full time service, on the 2nd September 1939, the day after Germany had invaded Poland, and the day before Britain declared war.

The 8th Battalion trained at their drill hall for the first few months of the war. After further training at Marlborough in Wiltshire, on the 23rd April 1940 the 8th Battalion was sent to France. The battalion did not join the British Expeditionary Force that was preparing for a German attack; it continued on to Gibraltar for a brief period and arrived in Malta on the 20th May.

Malta was vital to the British forces in North Africa, especially once Italy declared war in June 1940. It soon came under air attack. Norman and the 8th Battalion were originally sent to help defend the island against an invasion, but they soon found themselves busy building shelters for people and aircraft, as well as repairing the damage caused by air raids.

When the Germans sent troops to North Africa in February 1941 attacks on Malta began to increase and the island was soon under siege. This meant that as well as constant air raids ships carrying supplies could not always reach the island. Several convoys fought their way to the island, but food and clothing were in particularly short supply.

When Norman and the 8th Battalion arrived in Malta the island was defended by obsolete Gloster Sea Gladiator fighters. Three of them were named Faith, Hope and Charity. During 1941 and 1942, as the air attacks worsened, the British transported far more capable Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires to the island. As there was no invasion to resist, many members of the 8th Battalion worked at airbases, helping to refuel and rearm these aircraft between missions.

By the end of 1942 the Germans were retreating in North Africa. They were less able to spare aircraft to attack Malta and by the end of November the siege had effectively been lifted.

Norman left Malta for Egypt on the 27th August 1943. Over the next 3 months he and the 8th Battalion moved around the Middle East. They spent time in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. On the 30th November the movements stopped for a time when the 8th Battalion returned to Palestine.

The 8th Battalion stayed in the Middle East until March 1944. On the 23rd March the battalion arrived in Italy, which had been invaded by the Allies during September 1943.

We don't know much about where Norman served during his time in Italy. He took part in hard fighting through the mountains of central Italy. His final campaign was the attack on the German Gothic Line. This ran along the Apennine Mountains of Northern Italy and was attacked between August and September 1944. The Allies broke through the position, although they took many casualties and could not defeat the Germans.

On the 13th October 1944 the 8th Battalion left Italy for Northern Ireland. Their new job was to train new recruits to be infantrymen. We believe Norman had this job until the end of the war in August 1945. He was demobilised on the 12th November, with the rank of Sergeant.

Soon after the end of the war Norman's service in the Territorial Army was recognised when he was awarded the Efficiency Medal. Normally this was awarded for 12 years' service, but he was allowed to count his service during the war twice.

After hostilities ceased and Norman returned to civilian life, he divorced his first wife Sarah (known to all as ‘Sally’) and married his second wife Edith Johnstone with whom he had no children. He took his 3 daughters Norma, Beryl, and Ethel, out of the children’s home. His two sons, Kenneth and Norman, were resident there for another 3 years.

Whilst married to Edith, Norman entered into a relationship and had another son Nigel, in 1960. This was kept a secret, and Norman took this secret to his grave. Through curiosity about the circumstances of his birth Nigel tracked down his half siblings and established contact with them.

Norman joined the 8th Battalion Old Comrade's Association (OCA) in order to keep in touch with his friends. He was one of the men who represented the battalion at the new Queen Elizabeth's Ex-Servicemen's Royal Review in Hyde Park, London on the 5th July 1953. In 1955 he was elected to the Committee of the OCA, at the same time as Tommy Haddock, whose medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.

As the years passed Norman continued to be a recognised and respected figure in the OCA. He served as Vice-President and as Chairman, although we don't know when, and was a regular attendee at remembrance ceremonies and the 'turning of the leaves'. This was a simple ceremony, held every 2 weeks, in the Manchester Regiment Chapel in Manchester Cathedral. The Chapel contains books holding the names of all the men of the Regiment lost during the 2 world wars. During the ceremony the pages of these books are turned. Norman and Tommy Haddock were two of the veterans who continued to take part in this ceremony well into the 1980s. The photograph shows Norman at the Chapel in February 1986.

Norman died aged 74 on the 25th March 1987. He was remembered as 'a man with a passionate interest in his Battalion, direct in manner, who wasn't afraid to call a 'spade a spade'. His passing is regretted by comrades who served with him in peace and in war'. Norman's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in August 1997.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf

Telephone: 0161 342 5480
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council