John Foster (British politician)

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For other people named John Foster, see John Foster (disambiguation).

Brigadier Sir John Galway Foster (4 November 1904 – 1 February 1982) was a British Conservative Party politician. He served as Member of Parliament for the Northwich constituency in Cheshire from 1945 to February 1974.

He was Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations from 1951 to 1954.

His father was Hubert John Foster who was Chief of the Australian General Staff (1916–1917).

Early life[edit]

John Galway Foster was born 4 November 1904 into the family of Hubert John Foster and Mary Agatha Foster (née Tobin). His father, Hubert, subsequently served as Chief of the Australian General Staff in World War I. Miriam Rothschild, who knew John well for many years, writes that he had a “lonely, confused and homeless childhood.” Rather than care for or relate to their son, his parents “abandoned [him] to the care of a governess, first in France and then at school in Germany.” Apparently, the governess was harsh, strict, and unloving.[citation needed]

John Foster was a scholar of Eton and achieved a first in modern history at New College, Oxford in 1924. He was elected a Fellow of All Souls the same year. He then entered the study of law and was called to the Bar by Inner Temple in 1927.[citation needed]


He was appointed Recorder of Dudley (1936–38) and Recorder of Oxford (1938-51 & 1956-64). He lectured on private International Law at Oxford (1934–39) and The Hague. In 1939, he was in the United States and volunteered his services to the British Embassy. He was immediately appointed First Secretary and legal advisor. During this period, the United States was still a non-belligerent, and President Roosevelt faced many difficult problems related to the international law of neutrality. John played a significant behind-the-scenes role working on neutrality issues related to the Destroyer-for-Bases deal in 1940 and the Lend Lease Act in 1941.[citation needed]

Miriam Rothschild writes that, “John had dealt with the trauma and wounds of his unhappy childhood by totally eliminating the past -- his father’s death [in 1919], his mother’s desertion and his homelessness -- and any possible emotive perturbations in the present.” He had “a unique gift of augmenting and gilding the actual moment.” Isaiah Berlin and Rothschild independently described Foster “as the greatest life enhancer we had ever met.”[citation needed]

Foster got on well with the Americans. Isaiah Berlin, who was in Washington, DC in 1940, said that Foster was “very, very popular and never had less than two or three hundred friends.” The United States awarded him the Legion of Merit during his service with the British Embassy. By 1944, he had established himself as a capable attorney with a broad and deep understanding of the international law. That year, he was appointed chief of the legal section in General Dwight Eisenhower’s, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). In order to facilitate his relationships with the military forces, he was given the rank of Brigadier. Foster later quipped, “One must start somewhere.” In addition to the American Legion of Merit, he was awarded the Legion of Honour and the Croix de Guerre (with palms).[citation needed]

After the war, he participated in the Nuremberg trials. One of Brigadier Foster’s most admirable actions involved the liberation of the Nazi death camps. Initially, well-meaning Allied forces simply liberated the camps and moved on to their next objective. As a result, many of the weak and starving prisoners simply died. When Foster learned of this problem, he had several direct meetings with Winston Churchill with the result that an effective procedure was put in place to provide the prisoners with needed care and protection.[citation needed]

In 1945, Northwich in Cheshire elected him a Conservative member of Parliament, and he served Northwich until 1974. From 1951-54, he was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Commonwealth Relations. He took silk in 1950. Foster devoted most of his post-World War II career to the practice of law and to the vigorous advocacy of human rights. He especially worked as an advocate for victims of persecution. Miriam Rothschild describes in some detail his post-war efforts to assist victims of the Holocaust.[citation needed]

In 1986 the John Galway Foster Human Rights Trust was established; in 2006 the name of the trust was expanded to The Miriam Rothschild & John Foster Human Rights Trust. This funds an annual lecture on human rights.

Later life[edit]

Foster was made KBE in 1964, and died in London 1 February 1982. His obituary described him as “a genius Benthamite Utilitarian who believed in the maximization of human pleasure.” He never married, although he enjoyed a 30-year relationship with the art historian Princess Lulie Abul-Huda Fevzi Osmanoglu.[1] [2] His executor destroyed the bulk of his papers dealing with his public life.[citation needed]


External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Colum Crichton-Stuart
Member of Parliament for Northwich
1945February 1974
Succeeded by
Alastair Goodlad