Print this Post

Being a POW doesn’t negate bravery in combat

September 2018

With the recent death of Senator John McCain, the world lost an honourable man and yes, a war hero.

Much was made in recent years by a particular person about the fact that he wasn’t a hero because he was taken prisoner during the Vietnam War.  This classless and insensitive comment overlooks the fact that being a POW doesn’t take away from your actions before and after your capture.

Many may not know that Canada has its own war hero who spent time as a POW; one who won the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour in the face of the enemy for British and Commonwealth militaries:  Honourary Lieutenant-Colonel The Reverend John W. Foote.

Reverend Foote was born on 5 May 1904 in Madoc, Ontario. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister, Foote served congregations at Fort Coulonge, Que., and Port Hope, Ont.

With the outbreak of World War II, Foote enlisted in the Canadian Chaplain Corps and was appointed an Honorary Captain.  He was assigned to the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment) (RHLI) in Hamilton, Ontario, as their Regimental Chaplain.  Foote went to England with the 1st Battalion, RHLI and was part of the contingent that landed on the beaches of Dieppe, France, on 19 August 1942.

As the Regimental Chaplain, Foote wasn’t originally supposed to be a part of the raid. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Labatt, Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, changed his mind after Foote told him he was indeed going on the raid and that he (Labatt) could arrest him on the boats for disobeying an order.

Upon landing on the beach, the burly chaplain attached himself to the Regimental Aid Post, assisting the medical officer and wounded soldiers both spiritually and physically. Descriptions of his bravery that day are utterly incredible and inspiring.

During the eight hours that the RHLI was on the beach, Foote carried more than 30 wounded soldiers to the aid post while enemy fire rained all around him.

For Foote’s actions that day, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. His citation reads in part:

“…with utter disregard for his personal safety, Honorary Captain Foote exposed himself to an inferno of fire and saved many lives by his gallant efforts………”

When the time came to evacuate, Foote volunteered to remain behind with those who couldn’t be evacuated so he could provide pastoral services to those who needed them.

As a non-combatant, Foote was not allowed to carry a rifle into battle. However during the evacuation, Foote grabbed a Bren gun and provided covering fire for his comrades as they evacuated the beach, a rather unusual thing for a padre to do.

Foote was taken prisoner along with 173 other members if the RHLI, including the CO, LCol Labatt. He remained a prisoner of war until released on 5 May 1945.

Post-war, Foote entered politics, winning a seat in Ontario Legislature as the Conservative member for Durham County.

Reverend Foote died on 2 May 1988, three days shy of 84.

The James Street Armoury in Hamilton, home of the RHLI was re-named The Lieutenant-Colonel John Weir Foote, VC CD Armoury in his honour in September 1990.

Note:  This is a re-working of an earlier article:  

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/being-a-pow-doesnt-negate-bravery-in-combat/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>