Marjorie Elaine Foster 1893-1974
by Diana Laffin

In 1930 the King’s Rifle competition at Bisley was one of the most hotly contested shooting competitions in Europe. Nearly a hundred competitors, the finest riflemen of the Empire, assembled to shoot targets from 900 and 1,000 yards. Conditions were difficult with a gusty wind but the winner was calm and steadfast, securing a bulls eye in the final shot. Traditional celebrations followed: presentation of the gold medal, a telegram from the king and champagne (although the victor was normally teetotal). While parading through the neighbourhood on a Frimley fire engine, the ‘Champion Shot of the Empire’ dressed in a light flannel suit, waved calmly with a cigarette in hand. So what was remarkable about this event? The victor was a woman; the only woman in the 20th century to win this prize. Her name was Marjorie Elaine Foster.

Marjorie Elaine Foster. Wikimedia Commons.

Although born in London, Marjorie Foster was a Surrey girl, living in her parents’ home in Frimley and then a bungalow in Bisley. Her father was a mineral water manufacturer and she had a comfortable upbringing. Her life changed in the 1920s when she met the love of her life: Blanche Badcock. Blanche persuaded Marjorie to join her poultry business and Marjorie persuaded Blanche to take up shooting. Both decisions worked well- the chicken farm prospered and Blanche became a good shot; this long, close partnership only ending with Blanche’s death in 1957. Marjorie chose to wear masculine style dress and eschewed feminine conventions. Any difficulties this caused her in socially conservative Frimley were robustly brushed aside.

Marjorie Foster was an active and independent woman all her life. A keen motorcyclist, she served in the Women’s Legion of Motor Drivers in the First World War. She continued her service in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in the 1920s and, in her mid-forties enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) as the Second World War loomed. During the war she continued to work in transport but also taught other women to shoot for home defence. In 1946 she was in Germany, working for the United Nations to support displaced persons and her work was recognised with the award of an MBE in 1952. Her shooting career continued and, even in her sixties, she was captaining the English shooting team on tours abroad.

But Marjorie Foster should not just be remembered as a fine riflewoman. All her life she faced critical, sometimes vitriolic, opposition because her sport was traditionally reserved for servicemen. She had to persistently fight for her right to participate, using her membership of military organisations. In 1939 she competed for the Territorial Army medal (she came second) despite complaints that she was not on active service. She stated that she would take part, not just to win the medal but because there was ‘a great question of principle involved’. Marjorie Foster retained the same calm focus on women’s rights as she did when aiming her rifle.

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