Wigan family passing on army medic’s war stories

Relatives grieving for popular great-grandad Alan Marsh have been keeping his memory alive by passing on the tales of his life to the next generation.
Alan MarshAlan Marsh
Alan Marsh

Young Archie Marsh, from New Springs, is the latest in the Marsh clan to hear the entertaining stories of Alan Marsh’s National Service in Egypt.

Mr Marsh, who died in August aged 89, did his compulsory stint in the armed forces in the years after World War Two with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

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And he enjoyed his stint with the military so much that his son Mick said that one of his greatest regrets in life was that he returned to Civvy Street rather than joining up permanently.

Chris, Archie and Mick MarshChris, Archie and Mick Marsh
Chris, Archie and Mick Marsh

Mr Marsh loved to regale his family with his tales of serving his country and now eight-year-old Archie, who goes to Aspull Church School, has been told the stories as well.

The family also poignantly marked the first Remembrance Day since Mr Marsh’s death a few weeks ago.

Mick said: “He was a lance corporal during his National Service and he did most of it in Egypt.

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“He would have been about 16 or so when he joined the Army and he had to go in.

“Archie visited my dad before he got poorly and dad used to tell him stories. He was always telling stories about his army career, he loved it.

“He used to tell funny stories. One of his stories was that someone came in with a cut and he stitched it up but he just stitched it as though it was a blanket, he didn’t use painkillers or anything like that.

“My dad was only a little chap, just short of five feet tall, and he was always playing jokes on the sergeant.

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“The sergeant respected my dad because he was a nice bloke who got on with everybody but he used to give him hell, really.

“They used to go out and one night I think my dad pinched the sergeant’s bike and rode off on it. The sergeant didn’t know where his bike was until my dad just brought it back the next morning.

“He did his training, I think at Catterick, and then he got shipped out to Egypt. They flew part of the way and then sailed the rest, but my dad didn’t really like flying or like water.

“Not staying in the army was one of the things he regretted. He said he wished he had signed on and stopped in the armed forces. He met my mum while he was in and when he came out they got married.

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“It has been nice to pass the stories on to my grandson. Archie is the next generation of the Marsh family.”

Mick said his dad had quite a few photographs of his time in the armed forces so he has showed those to Archie along with a medal related to the Suez campaign which he was eligible to receive because he spent time serving in Egypt.

Last month the generations came together to pay a moving tribute to Mr Marsh.

Archie decided he wanted to lay a memorial pebble to pay his respects to his great-grandfather at the Aspull war memorial at Finger Post and asked Mick to help him with the stone-laying ceremony.

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Spending time together in the run-up to the Remembrance commemorations was a positive experience for both of them as the family has had a tough year, with Mick contracting Covid-19 in spring and remaining seriously ill for many weeks as he slowly recovered.

Mick said: “It was great for me and Archie to spend time together in what as been a difficult time for everyone.”

Archie added: “We learned about Remembrance Day in school and I love being with grandad Mick. I think I taught him a few things about DIY!”

The touching Remembrance ceremony also struck a chord with Aspull New Springs and Whelley’s elected representatives and activists.

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The family was supported through the weeks of Mick’s illness in the early stages of the novel coronavirus pandemic by ward politician Coun Chris Ready.

Community officer for Aspull New Springs and Whelley Laura Flynn said: “The pebble-placing event really was about young and old within the community coming together.

“Archie is an excellent example of how our young people deserve praise.

“Ninety-nine per cent of our young people are a credit to society, so let’s talk about them, not the one per cent.”

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Mr Marsh came from Chorley but the family’s association with the borough began when Mick started attending the famous Northern Soul all-nighters at Wigan Casino, meeting his wife Doreen at the club.

Mr Marsh is not the only member of the family to have gone into the armed forces, with Mick’s brothers Peter and Geoffrey serving in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force respectively.

Mick said he also ended up in uniform for his career, but in his case it was in civilian life as a postman.

After his National Service Mr Marsh, who was born in 1931, embarked on a career as a lorry driver but had to retire early when he developed cataracts which forced him to step away from the steering wheel.

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Mr Marsh also had a rather unusual job before National Service took him off to North Africa as he was a milkman but still used a horse and cart to do his rounds.

That, Mick said, sparked a lifelong love of horses, particularly large working animals such as shire horses.

Curiously, though, Mick said his dad would never gamble on horse racing.

He was married for 66 years and he and his wife received a card from the Queen.

He died on August 23 this year.

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