Lives of the fellows

Harold Mason Foreman

b.1 December 1913 d.19 April 1976
MBE(1946) MB ChB NZ(1937) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1963)

Harold (Bill) Foreman was born in Auckland, the second son of Robert James Foreman, an accountant, and his wife Hettie Elizabeth (née Mason). He was educated at Beaumont Primary School, Takapuna, and was a foundation pupil of Takapuna Grammar School. He entered Otago University in 1932, briefly living at Knox College, and graduated in 1937. He played rugby for Otago in 1936-1937 and for Auckland University in 1938. He was a member of the NZ University side in that year.

In 1938 he joined the staff of the Auckland Hospital. He volunteered for service abroad at the outbreak of the second world war and left New Zealand with the 1st NZ General Hospital in May 1940. The unit, intended for the Middle East, was deflected to the UK where it was established at Pinewood. In December 1940 they were transferred, by way of Cape Town, to Cairo as a ‘canvas hospital’ at Heliopolis. In March 1941 Foreman went, with his unit, to North Greece where it was set up at Farsala. In the ensuing debacle and retreat he was captured with patients on 26 April 1941, at Megara. The tales of his many adventures, of the POW Hospital at Corinth, and of the one in Athens to which all Crete casualties were flown; of his journey across eastern and central Europe to upper Silesia in 1941, and of his volunteering to care for Russian POWs in appalling conditions at Neuhammer, January-May 1942, are detailed in Despite Captivity: a Doctor's Life as a Prisoner of War (Borrie, J, W Kimber & Co., London, 1975). At Neuhammer, he himself contracted typhus fever and was fortunate to survive.

After recovery, from 1942 to 1944, he was physician to Cosel POW Hospital, with charge of both British and Russian prisoners. At the end of 1944 he returned to the Central Hospital at Lamsdorf Camp, near Breslau. During February - March 1945 he was in charge of 2500 sick POWs taken on a 10-day journey across a broken Germany to Hammelburg, near Frankfurt-am-Main. In this venture his integrity, high moral code and insistence on the preservation of decency, ensured that those on the march, and others who joined them, were not mercilessly removed by retreating Nazis back to Nuremberg. Much diplomatic skill was required at that time, and Foreman revealed a flair for it. It was his humanity, his dogged persistence and his utter belief in what was ‘right’, that would not accept ‘no’ for an answer, which earned him the high regard of those he led. For his military services to POWs he was awarded the MBE.

In London, after the war, he obtained appointments as house physician, resident medical officer and registrar at the Brompton Hospital, serving at the hospital for six years and gaining his MRCP in 1947. He entered fully into the life of the hospital at Brompton, contributing to the team spirit and becoming a thoroughly trained physician with special knowledge and experience of chest disorders.

In 1951 he became physician-superintendent of Sully Hospital, Glamorgan. For most of Foreman’s time this hospital had a central position in cardiothoracic medicine and surgery in South Wales. He knew all the staff personally, introducing many amenities for them, and for the patients and their relatives. With the later development in Cardiff of the Welsh Medical School, it was a great sorrow to him to see the facilities at Sully run down. An early member of the Thoracic Society, he served on the Council and was successively assistant secretary, secretary, and president in 1972 at the time of the second Cardiff meeting. At that meeting there were many colleagues from his Brompton days and physicians and surgeons from Poland, Texas, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia and South Africa.

Harold Foreman was always known as ‘Bill’. He bore the exacerbations and exhausting treatment of his last illness with the highest courage, rejoicing in its remissions. It was the greatest pleasure to him, and to many old friends, to be at the Otago Medical School centennial celebrations in February 1975. He married Pamela Mary Villar in 1948 and had a family of four daughters and two sons. A younger brother, Joseph Maxwell Foreman, also an Otago graduate in medicine, died in 1969.

Sir Kenneth Robson

[Brit.med.J., 1976, 1, 1346; Lancet, 1976, 1, 1087]

(Volume VII, page 189)

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