Friday, August 15, 2008

Stephen Foot

The author of a squib of an anti-war fairy tale in The Children's Newspaper—'The Pollogy Bird' in the 27 September 1941 issue—but, as it turns out, an interesting study. That's what I like about doing this kind of research... you never know where it might take you.

Major Stephen Henry Foot, D.S.O., was born in London in 1887, the son of William Henry Foot.

Educated at Eastbourne College and Emmanuel College, Cambridge (MA), he began the first of what he would later describe as Three Lives, the title of his 1934 autobiography, when he entered the service of the Shell Oil Company. After a novitiate in the Straits Settlements, he was promoted to a position of control in Mexico, where his pioneering work was complicated by political disturbances when Shell became embroiled in a revolution in Tampico.

Foot's second life was as a soldier. He served for three years on the Western Front in the Great War as one of the Reserve of Officers with the Royal Engineers at the Somme then transferred as a Brigade-Major to the 2nd Tank Brigade, under the command of Anthony Courage. Foot's later noted that his first sight of a tank in 1916 did not elicit the response he would later have for the war-machine: the "predominant emotion excited in anyone seeing them for the first time was a feeling of hilarity. One wanted to laugh... standing still, they were funny; moving along, they were a scream!"

After fighting at Third Ypres and Cambrai, his organizational skills were noted and, in January 1918, during a period of leave in England, he transferred to a staff post in Capper's Tank Directorate at the War Office and became Fuller's GSO2 in July 1918. He was mentioned twice in despatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) in March 1918.

After the war, Foot sacrificed the large salary he was in a position to command from the oil company he had worked for and, instead, took up the career he had set his heart on whilst at school. In 1920 he became a house tutor at Eastbourne College; as bursar and house master, he remained at the college until 1934. He was notably the first careers master to be appointed in a public school; until then, careers advice had been regarded as mainly the province of headmasters but, following a series of articles written by Foot for the Daily Telegraph, careers advice became established in schools.

Later became a convert to the Oxford Group, explaining in Life Began Yesterday how their philosophy made him "a new man and how his new life has given him a new courage, a new hope, a new power." A reviewer complained that his "expression of gratitude to Dr. Buchman's Group Movement" was "an apologia for its methods and a reply to critics. Coherence is seldom obtained from converts, and Mr. Foot's work is, as might be expected, a series of detached reflexions without much affinity either to each other or to the Group Movement. With a convert's enthusiasm, Mr. Foot announces that the Groups have the cure for unemployment, and the international situation, but it will doubtless be as difficult to persuade the world of this as to cure the evils by direct attack. He also deals with a number of moral problems, mainly of personal honesty. In these regions Mr. Foot lacks grounding. It is a personal testimony to the influence of the Groups that his book will be valued." (The Times, 5 July 1935)

The book was his most successful and was translated into nine languages (French, German, Swedish Dutch, Danish, Japanese, Italian, Yugoslavian, Bulgarian) and issued in Braille. As an author, Foot had articles in The Times, Daily Telegraph, Nineteenth Century, Journal of Education, Journal of Careers and elsewhere.

He began travelling extensively on behalf of Moral Re-armament. His trips took him to Canada, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, France and Holland (1935-39), America (1946), Kenya, Uganda, West Africa, North Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, Nyasaland and South Africa (1948-58). His travels in Africa inspired the last of his books.

Foot died in London on Friday, 24 June 1966.

Tank Tales, by "Tank Major" and Eric Wood. London, Cassell & Co., 1919.
A Housemaster and his Boys, by One of Them. London, E. Arnold & Co., 1929.
Three Lives. An autobiography. London, William Heinemann, 1934; revised as Three Livesand Now. An autobiography, London, William Heinemann, 1937.
Life Began Yesterday. London, William Heinemann, 1935.
New Freedom Arithmetic, with Frederick Harold Turner. Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1936.
Wisdom from the Desert. London, Epworth Press, 1943.
Wisdom from the Sea. London, Epworth Press, 1943.
Life Begins Today. Cape Town & Johannesburg, Juta & Co., 1951.
Africa: Choice for a Continent. London, Oxford Group, 1954.
African Tale. London, Blandford Press, 1955.

Note: The 1948 edition of The Writer's and Artist's Who's Who lists Wisdom of the Desert, Wisdom of the Sea, also listed in Who Was Who as appearing in 1943; the title was dropped from the 1962 edition. While Wisdom of the Desert exists, I can find no trace of Wisdom of the Sea and it may be a ghost title.

(* 'The Pollogy Bird' and The Children's Newspaper © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.)


  1. Re Wisdom From The Desert. I have a copy of this small booklet 3rd impression (pocket size) April 1943. It does not have "Wisdom Of The Sea" in the title.

  2. Replies
    1. The Epworth Press. Cost was 3d! I'm happy to scan in the booklet in for you if you want. Just let me know your email address if you want me to do this.

    2. You'll find my e-mail address below the photo at the top left of the page.



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