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Chaplain with a Bren gun: RHLI Regimental Chaplain won the Victoria Cross at Dieppe

Barrie Examiner

9 August 2017

When Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, visited Barrie in October 2013, she took part in a dedication ceremony for two granite benches and a Victoria Cross obelisk war monument at the future site of the Military Heritage Park.

The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to members of British and Commonwealth militaries in times of war.

What many residents may not know is that one of the Victoria Cross winners named on the new monument has a Barrie connection: Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Reverend. John Weir Foote.

Reverend Foote was born on 5 May 1904 in Madoc, Ontario. He was educated at the University of Western Ontario & Queen’s University. He then attended the Montreal Presbyterian College at McGill University, graduating from their Theology program. Foote was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and served congregations at Fort Coulonge, Que., and Port Hope, Ont.

The outbreak of World War II in saw many young men enlist in the Armed Forces of Canada. Reverend Foote felt the call too and enlisted in the Canadian Chaplain Corps in December 1939. He was appointed to the rank of Honorary Captain and assigned to the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment) in Hamilton, Ontario, as their Regimental Chaplain.

When the 1st Battalion, Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) was posted to England in July 1940, Captain Foote went with them.

On 19 August 1942, the RHLI deployed to the beaches of the French port of Dieppe as part of Operation Jubilee, marking the second time the Canadian Army had gone into action in WW II.

At the age of 38, Foote deployed along with the regiment, although he 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………his example inspired all around him. Those who observed him state that the calmness of this heroic officer as he walked about, collecting the wounded on the fire-swept beach will never be forgotten.’

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.

Upon returning to Canada, Foote chose to remain with the Canadian Chaplain Corps and was posted to Camp Borden in September 1945 as the Senior Protestant Chaplain with the rank of Major. He took up residence in the nearby Town of Barrie, living at 135 Mulcaster Street.

On 28 March 1946, Foote traveled to Buckingham Palace where he was formally presented his VC by King George VI, becoming the only member of the Canadian Chaplains Corps ever to ever receive such an honour.

Foote remained in Barrie and with the Chaplain corps until finally releasing from the Army in 1948. That same year, Foote left pastoral ministry for a career in politics, winning a seat in Ontario Legislature as the Conservative member for Durham County. He held the riding until retiring from politics in 1959.

In 1964, Reverend Foote returned to the RHLI as its Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel. He relinquished the appointment in 1973.

Among the other honours that Reverend Foote would see in his lifetime was having the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Cobourg named after him in 1982.

Reverend Foote lived with his wife Edith in Cobourg, Ontario until his death on 2 May 1988. He was laid to rest in Cobourg’s Union Cemetary.

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. Foote’s medals are on permanent display at the RHLI Museum.

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This is the original version of the article:

October 2009

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth militaries in time of war. Barrie, Ontario, can lay claim to having a VC winner as one of its residents: Honourary Lieutenant-Colonel The Reverend John Weir Foote, VC, CD.

Reverend Foote was born on 5 May 1904 in Madoc, Ontario. He was educated at the University of Western Ontario & Queen’s University. He then attended the Montreal Presbyterian College at McGill University, graduating from their Theology program. Foote was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and served congregations at Fort Coulonge, Que., and Port Hope, Ont.

The outbreak of World War II in saw many young men enlist in the Armed Forces of Canada. Reverend Foote felt the call too and enlisted in the Canadian Chaplain Corps in December 1939. He was appointed to the rank of Honorary Captain and assigned to the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment) in Hamilton, Ontario, as its Regimental Chaplain.

When the 1st Battalion, Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) was posted to England in July 1940, Captain Foote went with them.

On 19 August 1942, the RHLI deployed to the beaches of the French port of Dieppe as part of Operation Jubilee, marking the second time the Canadian Army had gone into action in WW II.

At the age of 38, Foote deployed along with the regiment, although he 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………his example inspired all around him. Those who observed him state that the calmness of this heroic officer as he walked about, collecting the wounded on the fire-swept beach will never be forgotten.’

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.

Upon returning to Canada, Foote chose to remain with the Canadian Chaplain Corps and was posted to Camp Borden in September 1945 as the Senior Protestant Chaplain with the rank of Major. He took up residence in Barrie, living at 135 Mulcaster Street.

On 28 March 1946, Foote traveled to Buckingham Palace where he was formally presented his VC by King George VI, becoming the only member of the Canadian Chaplains Corps ever to ever receive such an honour.

Foote remained in Barrie and with the Chaplain corps until finally releasing from the Army in 1948. That same year, Foote left pastoral ministry for a career in politics, winning a seat in Ontario Legislature as the Conservative member for Durham County. He held the riding until retiring from politics in 1959.

In 1964, Reverend Foote returned to the RHLI as its Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel. He relinquished the appointment in 1973.

Among the other honours that Reverend Foote would see in his lifetime was having the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Cobourg named after him in 1982.

Reverend Foote lived with his wife Edith in Cobourg, Ontario until his death on 2 May 1988. He was laid to rest in Cobourg’s Union Cemetary.

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. Foote’s medals are on permanent display at the RHLI Museum.

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/rhli-regimental-chaplain-won-the-victoria-cross-at-dieppe/

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