FOOTE Ernest Rolleston Vicars 342
23 B KiA 10/04/18
Ernest Foote was born in Portland. His father – Major R Vicars Foote – was with the Bank of Victoria and the family moved with his various appointments and promotions. When Ernest enlisted in February 1915, his father was managing the branch at Warrnambool. Ernest himself had had a close association with Warrnambool and had attended the Warrnambool College where he had been in the cadets for 2 years. When he completed the information for (National) Roll of Honour, the father in fact identified Warrnambool as the town with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’.
At the same time there was a strong connection with the Shire of Alberton and Sergeant Foote’s name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It is also recorded on the honor roll of the Yarram Club.
It appears that after some work in the Bank of Australasia in Warrnambool, and other rural centres, Ernest Foote left banking and moved to the Shire of Alberton where he took up farming. It further appears that he worked with his brother who had land – 130 acres – at Won Wron. The brother was Edgar Reginald Vicars Foote. Oddly, neither brother appeared on the 1915 electoral roll and only Edgar Reginald appears in the rate book. Yet despite not having land in his own name, Ernest was clearly working as a farmer. After he enlisted there was a sale of his stock — dairy cattle – and property, including farm machinery. On his enlistment papers he gave his occupation as ‘farmer’.
Ernest Foote was heavily involved in the local football competition. He played for Devon North and appears to have been the captain. His name regularly appeared in the ‘best players’. He was also, unfortunately, the umpire at the infamous match in May 1914 when things got well out of hand – there was money waged on the outcome of the game – and one of the players was seriously injured and subsequently died from his injury. The event is covered in detail in the very first post (Post 1). Some of the blame for what happened was attributed to poor umpiring on the day.
There was one more connection to the district. Ernest’s (step) mother – Georgina McKenzie – who had married R J Vicars Foote in 1909 was the daughter of Donald Thomas and Mary Ann McKenzie. This McKenzie family was one of the key grazing and business families in the Shire of Alberton, and the father had been Shire President.
Ernest Foote enlisted in Yarram on 12/2/15. His medical was with Dr Rutter. The date for his railway warrant (#89) issued by the Shire Secretary was 16/2/15. He was 28 yo and single. His religion was Church of England. Like so many others from the district, his enlistment papers suggest that he was to join the Light Horse, but within 6 weeks of enlistment Private Foote joined 23 Battalion.
When he completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, the father indicated that two of Ernest’s brothers also enlisted and there was a sister who served as a nursing sister in Egypt (including Gallipoli) and France. The two brothers were Rupert Vicars Foote (10847) who enlisted aged 28 in January 1916 and Richard Jeffrey Vicars Foote (1538) who enlisted in March 1916 aged 36.
Both brothers survived the War and returned in mid 1919. The oldest brother – Richard Jeffrey – was wounded twice, seriously. The sister, Eveline (Evelyn) Mary Vicars Foote enlisted as nurse – Staff Nurse, Australian Army Nursing Service – in June1917. She was 32 at the time and single. She moved to France in May 1918. Her record indicates that prior to formal enlistment in the AIF in 1917 she had already worked for two years in Egypt as a nurse in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (reserve). She took on this service a few months after her younger brother Ernest had enlisted and well before the other two brothers joined up. She returned to Australia in September 1919. There were also two brothers-in-law who … were also at the front in France for 3 years. Obviously there was a strong family commitment to the War effort.
Private Foote’s unit left Australia in May 1915 (10/5/15). He was in action on Gallipoli in late August and, within a week of the fighting, he was hospitalised on Lemnos (7/9/15). He then rejoined his unit on the Gallipoli Peninsula some 3 weeks later (28/9/15). He was hospitalised again in late November (30/11/15) not long before the evacuation. Initially, his condition was described as ‘shell shock’ but there was a subsequent entry that recorded it as a shrapnel wound to the face. This time he was transferred to hospital on Malta and did not rejoin his battalion until March 1916. This was just 2 weeks before the unit left for France. His unit disembarked at Marseilles on 26/3/16.
In April 1916 he was promoted to lance corporal and then in July to corporal. He was hospitalised with quinsey (13/9 – 23/9) in Belgium. He was then promoted to the rank of sergeant in October 1916. There was another extended period of hospitalisation beginning on 10/11/16. This time the condition was described as ‘blistered feet’, although other papers in his file refer to the condition as ‘trench feet’. He was moved from casualty clearing station to ambulance train and then to hospital in England (Dartford). He was discharged after nearly 3 months in hospital, in late January 1917.
On his discharge from hospital in England it looks as if he moved to several training and command-type postings in England. There is a reference that in March 1917 – he was attached to No 1 Command Depot (Wareham) – he was charged with ‘Neglect of duty in that he allowed two prisoners to escape’. The report notes that he was ‘severely reprimanded’.
Sergeant Foote returned to France in June 1917 and rejoined 23 Battalion. There was more hospitalisation, in France, from September 1917 with ‘cellulitis elbow’. He rejoined the unit in mid December. There was a week’s leave in Paris in January 1918. There was yet more hospitalisation, in France, in January 1918 – this time ‘double quinsey’ – and he rejoined his unit in early February. There was nearly 3 weeks leave in England in March 1918 (6/3- 24/3). Then on 10/4/18 he was killed in action, just over two weeks after returning from leave.
At the time of Sergeant Foote’s death, the battalion was in the front line near Baizieux, not far from Albert. It was just over 2 weeks since the German offensive – Operation Michael – had pushed the front line back all along the old Somme battlefield; although by this time the German onslaught had faltered. The battalion records show that in this period the unit was in the process of consolidating the line, establishing communications and repairing the shelters and deepening the trenches. The same records reveal how the battalion was using patrols to push out and secure enemy posts that offered a tactical advantage. It looks like Sergeant Foote was killed in one such action in the forward position. The battalion war diary includes a specific entry on his death. Interestingly it is dated 9 April, one day before the official date of his death.
Sgt E R V Foote shot by sniper about 7 am while endeavouring to close with hostile patrol in outpost line…
The same entry also noted the length of his service. It stated that he … was an original man who had been through most engagements with the Battalion.
The death was also reported in an edition (15/3/18) of 23 Battalion’s journal [included as Appendix 18 in the April 1918 Battalion War Diary]. The journal was called ‘The Voice of the Battalion’ . The brief reference, written within days of his death, emphasised his length of service,
Sgt E. R. W. (sic) Foote, who made the supreme sacrifice, was one of the “originals”. His number was 342.
The cable advising of the death was dated 23/4/18. Sergeant Foote was buried ‘2 miles E. of Bresle and 2 miles S.W. of Albert’, the location of what became the Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension.
News of Sergeant Foote’s death was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1/5/18:
We regret to record the death of another district hero, in the person of Sergeant Ernest Rolleston Vicars-Foote. He served three years in Egypt, Gallipoli and France, and was killed in action on 10th April. He was son of Major Vicars-Foote, Bank of Victoria, Geelong.
There was a more detailed account of his life in the paper on 5/6/18. It gave a vivid account of his service:
He served in Egypt, Gallipoli and France, and was in hospital in Malta for some time. He was wounded and buried by an exploding shell in Gallipoli. Wounded again in France, was in hospital twice with trench feet, and suffered six times from quinsy. On the voyage from Egypt to France he travelled on the troopship “Southland” which was torpedoed. Notwithstanding the severe strain imposed by his many vicissitudes, he stuck manfully and gallantly to duty and to the work he had set out to accomplish, till on 10th April he made the supreme sacrifice of his life.
The will left all ‘real and personal estate’ to the father. The father also received the personal effects of Sergeant Foote which were despatched in May and June 1918 and included:
2 Discs, Housewife, Pipe, Whistle, Knife, Badges, Wallet, Photos, Writing pad, Manicure set and Scarf, Photos, Cards, Pr Knee Pads.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 1, The Alberton Project
National Archives file for FOOTE Ernest Rolleston Vicars
Roll of Honour: Ernest Rolleston Vicars Foote
First World War Embarkation Roll: Ernest Rolleston Vicars Foote