“A Marvellously Brave Leader”: Major General Robert Foote VC

6th June 2012

Foote

A new display case is highlighting the courage of one of the Royal Tank Regiment’s most highly decorated officers.

Major General Robert Foote VC joined the Army in 1925 at the age of 21. In the lead up to World War Two he saw service in India, but in 1942 he was posted fresh from England to command 7th Royal Tank Regiment in North Africa.

The desert campaign was characterised by a series of hard fought battles where the British and Commonwealth forces faced the Germans and Italians. It was not a place where a newly promoted Lieutenant Colonel could expect an easy ride.

Foote in action“To begin with we thought nothing of him as he had come straight out from England and knew nothing of the desert,” remembered Captain J.E Kenyan Walters of 7RTR. “How things changed later.”

It was during the battle of Gazala that Foote showed his mettle. Under heavy fire and remaining in plain sight of his men at all times, he went from tank to tank, reorganising and inspiring his battered regiment. Encouraged by his skill and fearlessness, with Foote leading from the front, they stopped an enemy attack at a critical moment. No photographs exist of the action, although an illustration (right) shows Foote in the vangaurd of battle.

Another of his men later said of him; “It was here, in the midst of some of the most vicious fighting that he won his Victoria Cross after showing a physical courage and leadership in desperate circumstances which beggars description and which will never be forgotten by those who were there.”

MedalsFoote’s impressive medal collection (left) takes pride of place in the case; a Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order with bar, campaign medals and an oak leaf on his war medal denoting a Mention in Despatches.

His Victoria Cross citation stated that his name was “a byword for bravery and leadership throughout the Brigade.” He is one of just two Royal Tank Regiment men who earned Britain’s highest order of valour in World War Two.

But if his medal collection alone does not paint enough of a picture of this incredibly brave soldier, two other stories recounted in this display certainly fill the gaps.

Shortly after his battlefield heroism, Foote was captured and become a Prisoner of War. Incredibly, he escaped and made his way to Switzerland disguised as a peasant. It was here in April 1944 that he learned of his Victoria Cross.
Caterpillar
One more curious object in the case, a caterpillar tie pin (right), relates to an incident that occurred in 1945. Foote was on his way to a Victory parade in Berlin, when the plane carrying him crashed. He was forced to bail out and was lucky to sustain only minor injuries.

Foote was therefore entitled to membership of the Caterpillar Club, an association of people who have had their lives saved by parachutes having been forced to jump from a disabled aircraft. His membership card is also on display.

Matilda IIRetiring as a Major General, Foote became a trustee of The Tank Museum until his death in 1993. Late in his life, he was the subject of a This is Your Life TV programme where his former gunner, Sgt Alf Longstaff told him; “Everyone in your regiment felt they were walking tall.”

The Tank Museum’s Matilda II tank (on display in The Tank Story exhibition) is painted in a World War Two desert pattern and named `Golden Miller` to represent one of Foote’s own tanks.

Foote is shown in the turret of The Tank Museum's Matilda II in the image on the left. This was probably taken in the early 1990's.



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