Michael Richard Daniell Foot (1919 - 2012)

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About Michael Richard Daniell Foot

M. R. D. Foot Michael Richard Daniell Foot Born 14 December 1919 Died 18 February 2012 Region United Kingdom Michael Richard Daniell Foot, CBE, TD (14 December 1919 – 18 February 2012) — known as M. R. D. Foot — was a British military historian and former British Army intelligence officer and special operations operative during World War II.

Biography

The son of a career soldier, Foot was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, where he became involved romantically with Iris Murdoch. He joined the British Army on the outbreak of World War II and was commissioned into a Royal Engineers searchlight battalion. In 1941 searchlight units transferred to the Royal Artillery. By 1942, he was serving at Combined Operations Headquarters, but wanting to see action he joined the SAS as an intelligence officer and was parachuted into France after D-Day. He was for a time a prisoner of war, and was severely injured during one of his attempts to escape. For his service with the French Resistance he was twice mentioned in despatches and awarded the Croix de Guerre. He ended the war as a major. After the war he remained in the Territorial Army, transferring to the Intelligence Corps in 1950.

After the war Foot taught at Oxford University for eight years before becoming Professor of Modern History at Manchester University. His experiences during the war gave him a lifelong interest in the European resistance movements, intelligence matters and the experiences of prisoners of war. This led him to become the official historian of SOE, with privileged access to its records, allowing him to write some of the first, and still definitive, accounts of its wartime work, especially in France. Even so, SOE in France took four years to get clearance.[1]

Foot left the Labour Party while his namesake Michael Foot — to whom he was very distantly related[2] — was leading it, and joined the SDP (Social Democratic Party).

Foot was the great-great-great-grandson of Benjamin Fayle who built Dorset's first railway in 1806[citation needed]. Fayle was the great-great-grandson of William Edmunson, the First Irish Quaker[citation needed].

He was at one time married to the British philosopher Philippa Foot (née Bosanquet), the granddaughter of U.S. President Grover Cleveland.[3]

M.R.D. Foot was appointed a CBE in 2001. He also received the Territorial Decoration for Long Service in the Territorial Army. [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._R._D._Foot

MRD Foot MRD Foot, the official historian of the Special Operations Executive, who has died aged 92, enjoyed the rare distinction of being the only person to be referred to by his real name in a John le Carré novel.

7:21PM GMT 20 Feb 2012

“Are you MRD Foot?,” someone asks George Smiley, who is posing as the Secret Service’s official historian as a cover while hunting for Karla’s mole. It was an amusing tribute to the man whose classic account of the work of SOE in France, published in 1966, led to his becoming known as “Mr Resistance”. MRD Foot MRD Foot

Foot’s decision to chance his academic reputation on a book about Britain’s “secret army” cannot have been an easy one, especially since he had been brought up to believe that although the Secret Services were “a very good thing”, it was bad form to talk about them.

Moreover, in the early post-war years, authors who had attempted to write unauthorised accounts of SOE found themselves in a minefield of personal rivalries and sensitivities; so much so that one author suggested that it would be impossible to write any fully objective history of SOE within the lifetime of the participants, as “there would be too much libel”. None the less, repeated charges of inefficiency and callousness in the administration of SOE led MPs, notably Dame Irene Ward, to campaign for an official history to be written.

The genesis of Foot’s classic account SOE in France (1966) was almost as clandestine as its subject. In 1958 the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, authorised the inception of research, but it was not until two years later that Foot was invited to an interview in the Foreign Office. Even then, it was only after an hour-long grilling that he was asked whether he would like to take on such a project.

There were, his interviewers told him, some conditions: he was not allowed to tell anyone what he was doing — not even his wife. He was, furthermore, to write his account on the assumption that MI6 did not exist, and without the knowledge or co-operation of the men and women involved.

Few historians can have embarked on their magnum opus so circumscribed as Foot. For two years he ferreted through the secret files held in the Foreign Office and Cabinet Office, some so secret that when reading them he had to be locked in a room in a Whitehall basement, from which he could escape only by ringing a bell. He was also hampered by the fact that many of SOE’s files had been destroyed, and others were available only if he specifically requested them; moreover, he had no access to French archives.

By Christmas 1962 he had finished the first draft, only to see it disappear into the bowels of the Foreign Office. He heard nothing more for well over a year, until April 1964, when Peter Thomas, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, announced that a draft of the history had been completed and that the government had decided in principle that it should be published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

This intelligence came as a complete surprise to former SOE hands, including Colonel Maurice Buckmaster and Major-General Sir Colin Gubbins, who had been in charge of SOE’s operations in France at the time. Though disconcerted, both men agreed to help, and, on their advice and that of other old SOE hands, Foot made further revisions to the draft.

Even so, when the book was finally published, it aroused enormous controversy for its portrayals of some SOE operatives; half a dozen former agents threatened legal action and there were two successful libel suits.

Yet for all the difficulties involved, Foot’s account was acclaimed as a classic, and he was widely praised for the skill with which he linked the experience of agents on the ground with the organisational and geographical handicaps of controllers back in London. While he did not try to disguise its occasional failures, he defended SOE against charges of inefficiency and callousness, paying tribute to its role in helping to restore French self-respect by its support of the Resistance movement.

Michael Richard Daniell Foot, an “exceedingly distant” relation of his namesake the politician, was born on December 14 1919. His family, split between the Army and Royal Navy, provided a good preparation for the great British tradition of inter-service rivalry. His great-great uncle, the First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher, was said to have been so incensed when his favourite niece married an Army officer that he sent her a £10 note with a terse message saying that he would never speak to her again.

Foot was a scholar at both Winchester and at New College, Oxford, where he arrived in 1938 to read PPE. He was 19 when war broke out in his first long vacation. He joined the Royal Artillery and, from a searchlight battery on the Isle of Thanet, found himself diverted on to the staff of Combined Operations. Shortly before D-Day, he transferred to the staff of the Special Air Services brigade, an international unit containing battalions of soldiers from the countries of occupied Europe.

In August 1944, as the break-out from Normandy was taking place, Foot was given a special mission to track down a notorious German interrogator called Bonner who had tortured some of the French SAS after capture. But Foot and his men were ambushed by German paratroopers; Foot was posted missing, presumed killed.

He managed to escape from holding camps round St Nazaire three times. On the third attempt, he sought refuge in a Breton farmhouse; but the farmer was unsympathetic, and the farmer’s sons gave him such a beating that they broke his skull and neck. He was finally saved in a prisoner exchange, and returned to Britain “unfit for active service”.

One of Foot’s last tasks in the Army was to estimate the number of military casualties in the event of a full-scale invasion of Japan. He suggested a figure of 1·5 million; the decision to drop the atom bomb was taken shortly afterwards. Foot was mentioned twice in despatches and awarded the French Croix de Guerre in 1945 for his service in Brittany.

After the war Foot returned to Oxford, where, like so many others, he recalled being enchanted by the young Iris Murdoch. He found her “absolutely captivating: she had personality and that wonderful Irish voice. Practically everyone who was up with Iris fell for her”.

After graduating, he taught Modern British and European History at Oxford and was a university lecturer in Politics from 1953 to 1959, when he went to work for the Institute of Strategic Studies. His initial area of interest was late 19th-century political history, and he published Gladstone and Liberalism (1952, with JL Hammond) and British Foreign Policy since 1898 (1956).

Foot was in the middle of editing Gladstone’s diaries at the time he was invited to research SOE. He soon realised he could not sustain the project through to completion; so, after finishing the first two volumes (published in 1968), and collaborating with Colin Matthew on the third and fourth (published in 1974), he handed responsibility for the remaining 10 to his collaborator.

Foot went on to become Professor of Modern History at Manchester University, though he resigned the post in 1973, explaining that he found the process of supervising students too like being a “parking meter attendant”. He was director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s European Discussion Centre from then until 1975, when he turned full time to writing.

Among other works, Resistance (1976) described the active opposition to Nazism right across the spectrum, from de Gaulle to the inmates of Auschwitz who contrived to infect some of their captors with lice carrying typhus. Six Faces of Courage (1978) explored the qualities of character that made ordinary men and women choose the perils of resistance work.

MI9, Escape and Evasion 1939-1945 (with JM Langley, 1979) was an account of a little known part of Britain’s clandestine services, responsible for establishing links with PoWs and “escape lines” down which those who managed to escape were passed to havens in neutral countries.

In Art and War (1990), Foot assembled some of the finer examples of the Imperial War Museum art collection. In 1995 he edited (with ICB Dear) the Oxford Companion to World War II, an invaluable reference guide.

In the late 1980s Foot turned his attention to the story of the resistance in the Low Countries, editing, in 1990, Holland at War with Hitler. By the time his official history SOE in the Low Countries was published in 2001, most of the participants were dead — which was probably as well, since Foot’s account revealed how, through incompetence and amateurism, more than 40 Dutch agents trained by SOE were parachuted, one by one, into the arms of the Germans, who then created an imaginary resistance network, calling for more money, agents and supplies to be dropped.

Even-handed to a fault, Foot balanced his tale of incompetence in London with an account of the contributory factors of treachery by some agents and the over-readiness of some prisoners to talk.

The same year, 2001, saw the publication of the late Professor William Mackenzie’s history of SOE, which Mackenzie had been commissioned to write by the Cabinet Office at the end of the war, but which had been given a very restricted circulation, primarily for use as a work of reference in the event of another war. Foot edited the book for publication as The Secret History of SOE, admitting that some parts of the book had been deleted on security grounds .

When during the 1980s, he was asked by the Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong to tackle SOE in Belgium and the Netherlands, Foot revealed that he had never been positively vetted when he had undertaken his earlier researches — something of an irony, given the secrecy in which he had had to work. This news, needless to say, produced a minor bureaucratic earthquake in Whitehall, yet nobody, as any historian would acknowledge, was better equipped to do the job.

He was appointed CBE in 2001, and in 2008 he published Memories of an SOE Historian.

MRD Foot was married three times: first to Philippa Bosanquet ; secondly to Elizabeth King; and thirdly, in 1972, to Mirjam Romme . He had a son and a daughter by his second marriage.

MRD Foot, born December 14 1919, died February 18 2012 The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/books-obituaries/9094496/MRD-Foot.html

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Michael Foot's Timeline

1919
December 14, 1919
2012
February 18, 2012
Age 92
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