He was called up in 1943, became an infantryman and took part in the Normandy landings in 1944 where he witnessed his comrades being picked off by German snipers in the Normandy bocage. His regiment had lost three-quarters of its men to death and injury by 1945 when it crossed the Rhine. An old schoolfriend, Bryan Forbes, then a member of the "Stars in Battledress" forces entertainment troupe, picked him as a stage designer. This was the start of his artistic career. He was demobbed in 1947. In 1984 Thames Television made a film, Albert Herbert's War, about his wartime experiences.
In 1954 he began a part-time work at Leicester College of Art and in 1956 he became a lecturer at the Birmingham School of Art. He converted to Roman Catholicism at that time although he remained fascinated by Buddhism. This was reflected in his art by his gradual adoption of religious and mythical subjects.
He joined the staff at Saint Martin's in 1964 and stayed for 21 years, becoming a principal lecturer.
At the Royal College of Art he met a sculpture student, Jacqueline Henly, and they married in 1951. They had three daughters, Madeline, Clare and Lucy.