Arthur Martin-Leake VC and Bar

b. 04/04/1874 Standon, Hertfordshire. d. 22/06/1953 High Cross, Hertfordshire.

Arthur Martin-Leake (1874-1953) was born on 4th April 1874 at “Marshalls”, High Cross, Ware, Hertfordshire, the fifth son of Stephen Martin-Leake, who was originally from Thorpe Hall, Essex. He was one of eight children, with two sisters called Georgina and Isabel, and five brothers. Four of his brothers became officers in the Army. The other brother, Frank became a Captain in the Royal Navy. Sadly, one of his brothers, Theodore, was killed in a ballooning accident in World War I. He was educated at Westminster School, and the University College, and qualified in Medicine in 1898. His first medical appointment was at a district hospital at Hemel Hempstead. This was a short term appointment, as soon as the Second Boer War broke out the following year, he joined the Hertfordshire Yeomanry as a Trooper.

Arthur Martin-Leake VC*

Arthur remained with this company during it’s year service in South Africa, taking part in several important engagements, notably Princeloo’s surrender and the relief of Hoar’s laager. When the Company went home he remained in South Africa, and was employed with the Army as a civil surgeon. Later, when the South African Constabulary was formed by General Baden-Powell, he joined that force at the rank of Surgeon-Captain, and served with it until he was invalided home due to wounds. It was during this service, he was involved in the action which led to the award of the Victoria Cross (London Gazette, 13th May 1902).

During the action at Vlakfontein, on the 8th February, 1902, Surgeon-Captain Martin-Leake went up to a wounded man, and attended to him under a heavy fire from about 40 Boers at 100 yards range. He then went to the assistance of a wounded Officer, and, whilst trying to place him in a comfortable position, was shot three times, but would not give in till he rolled over thoroughly exhausted. All the eight men at this point were wounded, and while they were lying on the Veldt, Surgeon-Captain Martin-Leake refused water till everyone else had been served.

Martin-Leake was presented with his VC by King Edward VII at St James’ Palace, London on 2nd June 1902. As soon as he was able to, he returned to the medical profession, and having passed the necessary examinations, he was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in June 1903.

In the autumn of 1903 he went to India to take up an appointment as an Administrative Medical Officer of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway, an appointment he would hold for a long period of time. He remained in India until 1912 when he returned to England for a period of leave. Whilst he was in England, the Balkan War broke out, and the British Red Cross set up a unit to serve with the Montenegran Army, and Martin-Leake volunteered for active service. He saw a lot of fighting, and was awarded the Montenegran Red Cross decoration by King Nicholas. On the morning of 5th August 1914, the news of the declaration of war against Germany was received in India where Arthur had returned.

Arthur quickly obtained a leave of absence from the Bengal-Nagpur Railway, and sailed back to Europe. They didn’t quite make it back to England, eventually arriving in Paris on 30th August 1914. Martin-Leake was appointed to the 5th Field Ambulance, 2nd Division with the rank of Lieutenant. By the time he linked up with his unit, the Germans were in retreat from the Marne and were holding positions on the Aisne. The German subsequent advance on the Channel ports were checked during the First Battle of Ypres between 19th October and 17th November 1914. It was during this period that Martin-Leake became the first of only three men to date to be awarded a Bar to his Victoria Cross (London Gazette, 18th February 1915).

The citation read as follows: Lieutenant Arthur Martin Leake, Royal Army Medical Corps, who was awarded the Victoria Cross on 13th May, 1902, is granted, a Clasp for conspicuous bravery in the present campaign: — For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty throughout the campaign, especially during the period 29th October to 8th November, 1914, near Zonnebeke, in rescuing, whilst exposed to constant fire, a large number of the wounded who were lying close to the enemy’s trenches.

Martin-Leake VC and Bar (Thomas Stewart)

Martin-Leake received the Bar to his VC at Windsor Castle from King George V on 24th July 1915. He had been promoted to Captain in March 1915, and then Major in November 1915. Owing to his previous experience in the Balkans, he was selected to accompany the “Adriatic Mission” which was to assist the Serbians with supplies and medical help. On 3rd April 1917, he was given command of a Field Ambulance, and promoted to Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel, and subsequently commanded a Casualty Clearing Station with the 1st Army. At the termination of his contract in September 1918, he left the service, and after some leave in England, he returned to his pre-war job on the Bengal-Nagpur Railway. He remained in India until 1937, when he decided to retire. He chose to return to England, and settled into his family home, Marshalls, near Ware.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Arthur volunteered again for service and worked as a surgeon in a mobile medical unit. Following the end of the War, he again returned to retirement. Martin-Leake died of lung cancer at his home, Marshalls, on 22nd June 1953, aged 79, and was cremated at Enfield Crematorium. His ashes were interred at St John’s Church, High Cross, near Ware, Hertfordshire. His medals are held and displayed by the Museum of Military Medicine, Keogh Barracks, Mytchett, Surrey.





Victoria Cross Trust – Image of Martin-Leake’s recently cleaned grave.

Thomas Stewart – Image of the Martin-Leake VC Medal Group at the RAMC Museum, Keogh Barracks.

Kevin Brazier – Images of the Martin-Leake VC Plaque and the framed photograph both in High Cross Church.