By David Snyder.
Born in Brantfort, Ont., in 1889, the son of Edmund Walker Head Van Allen and mother Letitia, when young Marsden was a teenager his mother Letitia, his uncle Kenneth Marsden and sister Marjorie moved to Summerland in 1905.
They moved west because the sister of Marsden’s mother, Mrs. Harriet Agur, lived next door. Harriet was married to Reeve R.H. Agur.
Their homes were located in Prairie Valley on Rutherford Avenue.
Marsden attended Trinity College and the University of Toronto from (1906 -1911) earning a degree in mechanical engineering. In May 1915, Marsden joined the 5th Wing of the Royal Naval Air Service his rank Lieut. Flight Sub.
In the spring of 1916, he was stationed in Dunkirk, France.
In April 1916, Van Allen was transferred to Coudekerke on the Belgium frontier. On May 4, the RNAS pilot was tasked with bombing the German airfield of Mariakerke.
Van Allen flew a Caudron G4 series B bomber. This two-engined biplane was a popular bomber. Unlike single-engine aircraft, the twin engines allowed a substantial bomb load.
Van Allen completed his assignment of bombing the German airfield, but on that fateful day in May 1916, Van Allen’s flight path took him near the German airfield of Oostende.
As chance would have it Flumeister Benno Schluter of the 1st Marine Feldflieger Abteilung was airborne when he spotted Van Allen’s Caudron.
Schluter’s aircraft was a Fokker E1, a monoplane with significant advantages over Van Allen’s Caudron G4. The Caudron had two 80 HP engines and a maximum speed of 124km/ hour. The lighter weight Fokker E1 (7) had greater maneuverability and a maximum speed of 132 km/hour. had a single 80 HP engine. The German Fokker was the first warplane to have a “synchronization gear” machine gun, a device that allowed the machine gun to be fired through the arc of the propeller without striking its blades.
When Van Allen saw Schluter’s Fokker approaching he tried to evade the attack. Both planes flew their maximum speed and Schluter opened fire.
Initially, the planes were at a height of 1,500 meters. Van Allen attempted to fly low to the ground in an effort to lose his attacker. Above the Caudron, Schluter dove down at Van Allen and continued to fire. Suddenly Van Allen dived and crashed near the Belgium town of Middelkerke. He died a week later May 11, 1916, in a Red Cross Hospital.
After landing his plane, Schluter advanced toward the injured Van Allen and the wrecked Caudron bomber. In his haste, Schluter did not see a high voltage electrical power line and was electrocuted.
Both Van Allen, aged 27, and Benno Schluter, aged 22, were buried side by side with full military honours in the churchyard of Westuine on the Belgium coast. During the memorial, a German biplane with black ribbons ‘flew past’ the fallen pilots out of respect.
A second gravesite was established for Benno Schluter in the Vladlo German Military Cemetery, some time later. There is a Van Allen gravesite at Ingoyhen Military Cemetery at Anzengen. It is unknown whether the remains of the two airmen were transferred to these second cemeteries or if the remains of the two pilots are still buried together at Westuine.
Upon receiving news of the death of Marsden Van Allen, the Summerland Review stated: “There are many in Summerland who will regret to hear of the death of the young aviator Both brilliant and accomplished, he was the type of citizen that Summerland can ill afford to lose.
“The name of Lieutenant Van Allen must have a prominent place on the roll of those who have gone from this place and laid their lives for the Empire.”
At the conclusion of the war, Van Allen’s mother Letitia donated money to build the west wing of the Summerland Hospital as a memorial to her son.
Thank you Eddy Lambrech and David Gregory for contributing to this story.
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