Alan Marsh enlisted into the Royal Marines straight from school on 17 November 1930 and trained in 177 Recruit Squad. He had been intended for an engineering career and had been awarded two Engineering Scholarships at Manchester University. At the same time he was also on the waiting list for a Short Service RAF Commission as his prime interest was to get into flying somehow. Finally, impatient of delays, and influenced by his father's career in the Royal Marine Artillery (Supt. P & R T Eastney 1919) he took the plunge and enlisted in the ranks.
Having been awarded a Corps Commission on 1 January 1935 he then set his sights on the Fleet Air Arm and according to the then Adjutant General (T. Hunton), he was the first officer ever to apply for the FAA whilst still under training as a 2nd Lieutenant.
After twelve months in the "Courageous" as the Detachment Subaltern, during which time he thumbed lifts with the Squadrons on exercises, and even managed some dual at Gosport, he was appointed to the FAA. He joined forces with "Skeets" Harris at the Elementary Flying School at Sywell where the first course of direct entry "A" Branch Pilots also assembled. This was a civilian course run by Brooklands Aviation Ltd. and the two RM Officers had a most enjoyable time for three months away from the somewhat wooden discipline of the Corps as it was in those days. Neither officer imagined that it would be eight years and a World War before they would return to Corps Duty.
Then followed Service Flying Training on the new No 1 Course at No 1 FTS Netheravon. It was here that he acquired the nickname "Minnie" which stuck for the rest of his service carrer. This Was followed by Torpedo Training at Gosport and Deck Landing Training in the Furious. A short period in training squadrons, training Air Gunners was followed by a course at Eastleigh where he converted to fighters.
During this period he was picked to pioneer a delivery route across France to reinforce the Argus which was operating from Toulon. This was at the time when France was collapsing and he thumbed a lift back from Paris in an R.A.F Flamingo as second pilot, crossing the Channel at wave top height under the noses of ME 109s.
A short while later he was also on a mission in the pay of Finland to fly Blackburn Rocs to there and thereafter help them to resist the Russians. This involved resigning his Commission and being issued with papers and a passport as a civilian. Fortunately this part of the war ended before his flight reached Finland which was probably just as well.
On 14 June 1940, a week before he was due to get married he was posted to 804 Squadron for the defence of Scapa. Here, as a Flight Commander he took part in the Battle of Britain, operating under 13 Group R.A.F. In this period he flew 22 operational sorties including two at night. He also embarked in Furious in the September and October 1940 as fighter protection for operations off Norway at Trondheim and Tromso.
At the end of this spell he transferred to 802 Squadron on 21 November 1940 as Flight Commander to reform the squadron which had been wiped out when Glorious was sunk on 8 June 1940. After this he returned to 804 Squadron on 25 March 1941 as Flight Commander for duties with the Fighter Catapult Ships. These were ex-merchant ships, armed with a Hurricane or Fulmar fighter mounted on a catapult, and were intended to deal with the Focke Wulf Condors with which the Germans were shadowing and attacking our convoys. The squadron pioneered this work until it could be taken over by the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit of the R.A.F. When out of range of land the pilots had to bale out and be picked up but in 12 months of operations (1941-42) only one pilot was lost. The ships involved Were Pegasus, Maplin, Patia (sunk), Ariguani, Springbank (sunk), and Michael E (sunk), and all operated from Belfast. In only ten months operations in 1941 the squadron made 11 launchings and shot down one FW 200 and damaged several others whereas the R.A.F only made 8 launchings in two years from 32 ships with the same results.
On 9 February 1942 Marsh assumed command of the Squadron which then returned to normal aircraft carrier dutiees, taking part in the Malta Convoy of August 1942 (Operation Bellows) and in "Pedestal." A photograph of the squadron is on display in Eastney Museum.
At the end of 1942 "Minnie" Marsh was given a rest after three years continuous front line service and was appointed to the Staff of COHQ as Fleet Air Arm Planner, which included planning duties for the invasion of Sicily 1943 (Husky).
After this. in January 1944, he was appointed Commander (Flying) of HMS Rajah which was mainly involved in DLT and convoy duties across the Atlantic and to India and Ceylon. In December 1944 he transferred to HMS Khedive as Cdr (F) and then continuously involved in air operations in the Indian Ocean, the Arakan, Sumatra, and Straits of Malacca with the 21st Aircraft Carrier Squadron. These included the landings at Ramree (3 Cdo Bde), Rangoon, and air strikes against airfields in the Andaman Islands and Sumatra, and on Phuket in Malaya.
Khedive also took part in the last Naval action of WWII when the Japanese cruiser "Haguro" was sunk in the Malacca Straits (15-16 May 1945).
Marsh returned to Corps Duty in January 1946 after eight continuous years in the FAA. Whilst at Plymouth he served on the Lamplough Committee which reorganised the Corps on its present lines. After a spell as Troop Commander in 42 Cdo in Malta he took over Command of Cdo Drafting Company at Stonehouse in early 1949, followed by a period in Germany at Cuxhaven. Unfortunately, like other aviators, he found life in the Corps rather dull after the war and he retired at his own request on 30.9.53.
He spent several years as a motor engineer before retiring for the second time in 1977.
Note. Of the 35 Officers who formed No 1 Course in 1938 only 9 survived the war.