Women of Aviation – Marion Marten

Photo of Marion Marten standing in front of a Mosquito aircraft during an interview with CBC




It was not an easy job for a 17-year-old. Nor was it always safe.

But when the opportunity to work in a Toronto area De Havilland aircraft plant arose, Marion Marten jumped at it. After only a month of training, the handy and reliable teen was an electrician helping to assemble Mosquito bombers during the Second World War.

“There were two places that were very hard to work,” the 96-year-old recalls from her home in Keremeos, B.C.  “The cockpit and on the tail.

“The cockpit was so small and full of wires, oh dear me. And you had to do a good job because the pilot depended on you to make sure everything worked right.”

The work on the plane’s taillights required that she climb to the top of a tall ladder with her pliers, screwdrivers, and an extremely hot soldering iron hanging from a cord around her neck.

“A couple of times I burned myself.”

Marten was one of tens of thousands of Canadian women who joined the war effort working at jobs more traditionally held by men at that time.

“There were very few men,” she remembers. Most were in the military.

She had been working in a factory in western Ontario, putting threads on bomb tails for 25 cents an hour. “But I’m good with my hands and they trained me on everything – lathes and the punch press and things like that. I thought, well I’m worth more than that.

“Anyway, I asked my boss for a raise and after three weeks he came back and said to me, I got you a raise of a half a cent an hour. I thought, half a cent an hour and I gave them my notice.”

She applied for a job at De Havilland was immediately accepted. Marten worked at plant from 1943 until the end of the war.

“I had to move to Toronto, but I started at 75 cents an hour. I thought I was getting rich at 75 cents an hour. Those were good wages for those days. De Havilland was much better. Everyone was very nice.”

The work could be dangerous.

“I was nearly killed twice,” she says. “I was under the wheel well and I was soldering above my head. I was standing on what we called the horse when I heard these beeps. Beep! Beep! Beep!

“I got out of there as the wheel went up. If I hadn’t noticed the beeps, I would have been squashed because there is only about three to four inches between the wheel and the frame that holds the wheel.

“Anyway, I hurried over to the cockpit, and nobody was there. Somebody had pushed the button. I was furious because I could have lost my life very easily.”

Her second narrow escape came nine months later.

“I was in a bomb bay doing the same thing, and low and behold I heard the three beeps again. I fell out and flattened myself. In those days I was young.

“The whole plane was plywood, but they had about six inches of steel around each door. When they closed, it was very tight. If I hadn’t heard those beeps and got out of there as fast as I did, those doors would have cut me in two. It was very scary. Somebody went into the cockpit and was touching things they shouldn’t have been touching.”

De Havilland’s Downsview plant produced more than 1,000 “Wooden Wonders” during the war. Powered by twin Rolls Royce Merlin engines and constructed of a special lightweight birch and balsa plywood and covered in glued linen, the plane was faster than a Spitfire, highly manoeuvrable and a versatile bomber, bomber-fighter, and reconnaissance plane.

Nearly 8,000 Mosquitos were produced in total at different factories and the plane saw action not only in Europe but also in the Pacific theatre. When Edmonton-raised Russ Bannock, Canada’s second most decorated pilot, was dubbed the Saviour of London for shooting down German V1 “doodlebugs” fired at Great Britain, he famously accomplished the feat in a Mosquito.

Marten is thankful to have worked on the plane that helped save her brother from falling into enemy hands after D-Day.

“He was with his group in Holland, and they ran out of ammunition, if you can imagine,” she says. “He told me the Germans got closer and closer and had circled them. They were going to be taken prisoner of war when suddenly out of the blue a fleet of Mosquito bombers flew over and the Germans ran for their lives. It made an opening and the group escaped because of the Mosquitoes. I’m sure I had worked on them.”

Marten never flew in a Mosquito, though she witnessed the incredible roar of their power while flying over the runway outside the De Havilland facility.

“It was a wonderful machine,” she says proudly of the wooden plane she did her best to build.

After the war ended, she never worked in aviation again. She temporarily found a job at Woolworths, married, and moved to Vancouver where she raised her family, and her late husband was with the police.

“When the men came home from overseas, they naturally wanted to get working,” she says. “We were all grateful when the war was over because it went on far too long, five years. You knew your job was over then, but I was fortunate because they kept me another three weeks trying to finish on the last planes.”

The RAF retired the last Mosquitoes in 1963.

“It was a good position but many times it was very difficult,” Marten says. “But I had a job to do, and I did it.”


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