Albert Edward MARSDEN OBE

RAF Service Number:
RAF Trade:
Date of Enlistment:
Rank Achieved:
Honorary Air Commodore
Flying Hours:
nil known
Operational Sorties:

Date of Birth: 1888, in Christchurch
Personal Details: Albert Marsden was born in Christchurch, the son of Mr. J. Marsden and Mrs Catherine Marsden. He had a brother two years older than himself, Arthur Marsden, who lived in Wellington by 1941. The family were described as being "from farming stock".

He grew up in Christchurch, and from early years he developed a flair for woodwork. As a young man he exhibited cabinets he had made in the Crystal Palace, London, and was awarded the Queen Victoria Medals. Working as ship's carpenter he travelled in 1913 to England to receive his award. He decided to stay and took a course in cabinet-making at the London Polytechnic.

This led him to a career of aircraft engineering, with Vickers Ltd, well known armament and aeroplane manufacturer. His woodworking skils were put to good use because the superstructure of most aeroplanes at that time was manufactured in wood. He studied production methods, and as the times changed he became more interested in metallurgy. Albert was undoubtedly involved in the production of aeroplanes for the First World War,, first at Vickers but soon into the war he was transferre to the Air Ministry, where he worked for the next three decades.

Through the rest of World War One he was the Air Ministry's Chief Inspector of Aircraft Production for all aircraft built in Scotland for the war effort.

In August 1926 Albert's mother Catherine travelled to the UK to visit him, as they'd not seen each other in around 15 years. However tragically two minutes after he met her at Southampton, while she was being carried ashore from the steamer Arawa, she dropped dead. Perhaps it was the shock of the reunion. It made the newspapers in New Zealand at the time.

Albert was a very keen and adept golfer. When he first started to play he reached a single-figure handicap in three months, and for many years he was on scratch. He played on practically every well known golf course in North America and Great Britain. In later years his failing eyesight forced him to cease playing in Cambridge. His memory is perpetuated however by the Marsden-Harper foursome match play competitionset up in the early 1970's to be contested by members of the Cambridge Golf Club.

Albert retained his interest in woodwork right through life.He was also keen gardener and on the 3rd of April 1969 he was metione din the Cambridge Independent newspaper for his notably large beefstake tomatoes that season.

Although his sight was failing, he had enjoyed good health until ANZAC Day 1972, when he entered hospital. It seems he may have been in there till his death three months later.

Albert was married in Glasgow to Miss Netta Rosborough. His wife died two years before he did. Albert also had one son, Mr R. J. Marsden, who lived in Hamilton at the time of Albert's death, also two grandchildren.

Service Details: As well as his involvement with building and inspecting aeroplanes in the First World War as Chief Inspector of all aircraft built in Scotland; after WWI he was made the Chief Inspector of Production for all aircraft built for the RAF between the wars.

On the 22nd of January 1926, the London Gazette announced that Albert had been appointed to the position of Assistant Inspector, Deputy Directorate of Aeronautical Inspection, Air Ministry.

In 1936 he was among the team responsible for the setting up of the Shadow Scheme factories, which saw nine new large manufacturing plants built, and fifteen existing large vehicle and other manufacturing factories converted and transfered into the production of aircraft parts. This was part of the massive expansion plans for the Royal Air Force should the war come. The most famous of the shadow factories was Vickers Supermarine's Castle Bromwich facility in the West Midlands, facility where Spitfires and Lancasters were assembled.

Then a bigger role followed for Albert. In February 1939 Albert was sent to Canada by the Air Ministry to take up the position of chief inspector of the production of all the aeroplanes that country was building under contract for RAF service. Later he was given a wider position covering the same role over productuion in all of North America. He was given the honorary rank of Air Commodore.

Albert was part of the British Air Commission in Washington D.C. from around April 1941. This was a group led by Lord Halifax as part of his Ministry of Aircraft Production. Albert was working alongside such luminaries as Air Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, famous for his leadership role of Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain; and Mr. C.R. "Dick" Fairey, owner of Fairey Avaition which was building many fighter and bomber types in the UK.

It was recognised that as Chief Inspector for the British Air Commission, Albert had one of the most responsible jobs of any New Zealander connected with the British war effort. It was his role to oversee and approve all war material that was produced in North America to be sent to the UK for the British Air Ministry. Albert was working 14-hour days, seven days a week, travelling all over the North American continent in his job.

One job he is known to have been involved in was giving his approval for the 1000th North American Aviation Inc. Harvard trainer built in Southern California for the Air Ministry, to go to Canada and be used in the Empire Air Training Scheme. Albert was photographed with this aircraft giving the thumbs up as it rolled off the production line.

In January 1946 Albert washonoured with the OBE for his services to aviation, and he returned to England the same year. He retired in from the Air Ministry in 1948.

Died: June 1972, at Hamilton, following an illness, aged 84
Cremated at: Hamilton Park Cemetery on 22nd of June 1972

Connection with Cambridge: Albert Marsden returned to New Zealand in 1950 and resided at Paraparaumu till 1956, when he then moved to Cambridge and spent the last 16 years of his life in Cambridge, living at his home at 10 Stafford Street.

Thanks to: Errol Martyn, Terry at RAF Commands Forum, and Chelsea Tairi at the Cambridge Museum
Sources include: The Cambridge Musuem and Cambridge Historical Society, Papers Past online, the London Gazette online


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