Marston Matting – WWII Leftovers on Palawan
by Donna Amis Davis
Recently I was doing some research came across the official name of a common Philippine item. Everywhere you go in the Philippines, you see fencing made from this stuff:
It is called Marston matting. When we first arrived in the Philippines, more than 30 years ago, a veteran missionary pointed some fencing out to us and said it was leftover steel matting from World War II. We were amazed that it had survived 35 or 40 years in this rainy climate without rusting away. And now, it is 70 years since the start of World War II and this stuff is still around everywhere.
Here is the story. The material is made of plates of standardized, perforated steel, originally developed in by the U.S. before WWII primarily for the rapid construction of temporary runways and landing strips. The steel is made with a high manganese content to enable it to resist corrosion. Seabees could construct a runway 200 feet wide and 5000 feet long within 2 days by a small team of engineers using these mats. It is officially referred to as pierced (or perforated) steel planking, or PSP. But it came to be called Marston Matting (or sometimes Marsden Matting) because it was first manufactured adjacent to the town of Marston, North Carolina, not too far from modern Fort Bragg.
Huge quantities of the matting were produced, approximately 2 million tons. At the end of the war, a large amount of the material remained as war surplus, and was used in road and bridge construction and fencing.
You can still see fences made of the surplus matting in Puerto Princesa, especially in the older part of town, where the old WWII airstrip was located. We even found a cart made of it. Apparently, there are miles of fencing made of Marston Matting in Papua New Guinea, too, and it is found all over the islands of the Pacific, as well.