Colonel Martin E M Herford DSO, MBE, MC and Bar

  • Bar to Military Cross medal
  • Distinguished Service Order medal
  •  Military Cross medal
  • MBE medal

Martin Edward Meakin Herford, although not an Airborne soldier, played a critical role in the establishment of the 'Airborne Hospital' at Apeldoorn, near Arnhem during the Battle and in the month afterwards which saved the lives of many Airborne soldiers, along with some civilians and German personnel.

Martin Herford trained as a Doctor before the Second World War, before being commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps in January 1941. By late-1944 he had distinguished military career behind him in Sicily and Italy, and had most-recently been awarded a Bar to his Military Cross early in 1944 to accompany the MBE he received earlier in the war. He had risen to Lieutenant Colonel and was now the Commanding Officer of 163 Field Ambulance, part of the ground forces attempting to reach Arnhem.

On 24 September 1944, he was granted permission to organise an attempt to get urgently needed medical supplies over the Rhine to Oosterbeek, accompanied by Capt Percy Louis from HQ Airborne Corps, and four ORs from 163 Field Ambulance. Although this supply mission ultimately failed, his presence in Arnhem was vital in co-ordinating Medical services for the wounded (Cpt Louis would later drown attempting to re-cross the Rhine to Allied lines, whilst the ORs were captured shortly afterwards).

The relief attempt began in daylight displaying a Red Cross flag to the south bank of the river, where they found an abandoned assault boat and paddled across the Rhine. Reaching the north bank safely, Lt Col Herford left the others as he went forward to 'reconnoitre'.

Herford went forward and felt there were three possible outcomes:

1. German fire would stop any movement. 2. They would get through to the 1st Airborne and deliver the supplies and plan further relief operations. 3. Make contact with the Germans and request safe passage.

Herford himself felt the third option was the most likely to succeed as he recorded later. He felt he was acting as an envoy and when he first met any Germans he would ask to see a senior German officer and make demands:

(a) The immediate passage of the supplies. (b) The movement of further medical supplies. (c) To request facilities for the immediate evacuation of the large number of badly wounded men known to be in constant danger and in need of treatment.

Herford soon ran into some Germans troops and over the next few hours met various German officers at different locations before reaching a German HQ in Ede. One of these visits on the evening of 24 September was to the St Elizabeth’s Hospital in western Arnhem. Herford asked Maj Longland of 16 Para Field Ambulance for as much assistance as could be spared after reports of high British casualties numbers at a medical facility in Apeldoorn. As much equipment as possible was collected and sundry 'spare' personnel were sent there. These included several Airborne medical 'strays' who had managed to reach St Elizabeth’s during the Battle.

Later Lt Col Herford was instructed to go Apeldoorn to visit the Chief Regional Medical Officer Lt Col Zingerlin by the German HQ at Ede. On 25 September Herford arrived in Apeldoorn. Zingerlin informed him at that many wounded British soldiers were expected as a result of a truce that had occurred in Oosterbeek which allowed the evacuation of wounded (for more information on the temporary truce, view the article below). The German occupied hospitals such as the St Josefstichting, the Het Loo, the Algemene Ziekenhuis and the Katholieke Ziekenhuis were already pretty full and Zingerlin took Herford to a pre-war Dutch Army base, the Willem III Kaserne Barracks, where he suggested around 250 lightly wounded Airborne troops could be treated. Lt Col Herford later said he suggested the Barracks should be made a ‘British Hospital’ and staffed by British medical personnel, which Lt Col Zingerlin agreed to. The British personnel were happy with this idea, as it was hoped the 2nd Army might soon secure a bridgehead on the North Bank of the Rhine nearby and soon relieve Apeldoorn, although this Allied advance would ultimately fail to materialise.

Later on the afternoon of 25 September, casualties were pouring into the barracks and were being laid in rows upon piles of straw. As Lt Col Herford was unknown to any of the Airborne officers he was initially treated with some suspicion - a possible 'stool pigeon' planted among them by the German Intelligence Services. It soon became clear however that he was genuine. His fluency in German proved invaluable to help overcome numerous differences of opinion. Effectively the 'Airborne Hospital’ had been established on 25 September 1944. All British wounded would be sent here until they were considered fit to travel when they would be sent to POW camps in Germany (although in practice, Airborne medical staff worked hard to prevent this to ensure the safety of their patience).

When the Divisional ADMS Col Graeme Warrack arrived at around 1900 hrs on 26 September, and assumed command. he established an HQ, and recognised the importance of Lt Col Herford by retaining him as his Second-in Command. Herford remained as an integral part of the Hospital until he, alongside several other Senior Officers managed to engineer an escape during a night of bad weather on 16 October 1944.

Martin Herford was awarded a Distinguished Service Order in March 1945 for his actions at Arnhem and in North West Europe. After the war, he remained in the Royal Army Medical Corps and rose to become a full Colonel in the late 1940s.

Record under construction

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Service History

  • 1941
    Royal Army Medical Corps (Lieutenant)
  • 1944
    Commanding Officer (CO), 163 Field Ambulance RAMC (Lieutenant-Colonel)
  • 1947
    Royal Army Medical Corps (Colonel)


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