Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Herford

Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Edward Meakin Herford MBE, MC


Unit : 163 Field Ambulance, RAMC, attached to HQ, 1st British Airborne Corps

Army No. : 175256

Awards : Member of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross and Bar


Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Herford was not a member of the 1st Airborne Division but commanded the 163 Field Ambulance, attached to XXX Corps. He had a considerable history of caring for those injured as a result of war, having worked as a volunteer with refugee children during the Spanish Civil War and, in 1940, looked after casualties in Finland that had resulted from bombing raids mounted by the Russian invaders. Upon hearing of the dire state of the 1st Airborne Division's medical capacity, he volunteered to take supplies across the river himself, accompanied by only four orderlies and an officer of the 133 Parachute Field Ambulance's Seaborne Echelon, Captain Percy Louis. Louis was forced to return back across the river with the orderlies and was killed some time later. For the events that followed, Herford was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.


On the 23rd September 1944, 163 Field Ambulance was moved to area VALBURG map ref. 660690 to act as evacuating medical unit for casualties of 1 (British) Airborne Division from the North bank of the River NEDER RIJN in the event of relief of that Division being successfully accomplished. Reports stated there were 2000 (British) casualties in the area North of the river in urgent need of assistance and Medical supplies. The medical personnel of the Division was reduced to 18 officers and 120 other ranks.


It was planned that 163 Field Ambulance would accompany a Force across the river of the night 23rd / 24th September, and would take across medical personnel and stores, but this plan had to be abandoned owing to the non-availability of sufficient craft.


At 1430 hrs, 24th September 1944, Lieutenant-Colonel HERFORD on his own initiative organised a party consisting of one Medical Officer and four Other Ranks and crossed the river to the North bank in a boat loaded with medical equipment. The boat displayed the Red Cross Flag.


Lieutenant-Colonel HERFORD was aware that the North bank was held by the enemy and that all his movements might be under direct observation. On reaching the North bank he ordered his party to remain in cover and he, alone, proceeded forward with a view to making contact with the medical services of the Airborne Division or making arrangements with the enemy for the completion of his mission. Shortly after leaving the bank, he was made prisoner. He requested to be taken to see a senior German officer and after a considerable time his request was granted. The result of his interview was that he was permitted to contact the Head of the German Medical Service in the ARNHEM area and arrange for the organisation of a Hospital for all (British) casualties. This Hospital was established in Barracks near APELDOORN. Into this Hospital 1500 (British) casualties were collected and most of the remaining medical personnel of the 1 (British) Airborne Division were set to work.


Lieutenant-Colonel HERFORD was largely responsible for the organisation of the Hospital and treatment of the casualties. When he discovered it was proposed by the Germans to evacuate the serious cases in ordinary freight wagons he protested in the strongest possible terms and succeeded in ensuring the provision of a properly equipped ambulance train. When all the serious cases had been evacuated from APELDOORN he decided to make his escape. In this he was successful after an arduous and dangerous journey, and he returned to our lines, bringing with him a nominal roll of 1500 (British) casualties remaining in enemy hands. He was, in all, 26 days within the enemy lines.


In carrying out this most dangerous and difficult task Lieutenant-Colonel HERFORD displayed complete disregard for his own personal safety. His unshakeable determination resulted in adequate treatment being afforded to the (British) casualties in enemy hands and their evacuation to enemy hospitals under the best possible conditions.


His conduct all through was up to the best traditions of his Corps.


At Apeldoorn, Lieutenant-Colonel Herford was at first not trusted by the Airborne soldiers he found there because, as they did not know him, they suspected that he might be a spy planted by the Germans. They were soon convinced of his identity, however, and Herford set about the task of making an efficient hospital with the slight resources at his disposal. He was helped enormously in this regard by the fact that he spoke fluent German and so was able to ensure that the guards did not inadvertently hinder the efforts of his staff to care for the wounded. On the 26th September, Colonel Warrack, the Assistant Director Medical Services to the 1st Airborne Division, arrived and took over responsibility for the now well-functioning hospital. Herford served as his deputy. He had earlier agreed with the Germans that the hospital would be run as such and not as a Prisoner of War camp, in return for which he gave his word that no man would attempt to escape. This he obeyed, though in mid-October, when it became obvious that the hospital was gradually being wound up and that soon everyone would be taken to Germany, some of the medical staff, Herford included, made their preparations to leave. He himself escaped on the 16th October.


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