Second Lieutenant Walter Tull

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Second Lieutenant Walter Daniel John Tull

Also Known As: "Walter Tull"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: 16 Allendale Street, Folkestone, Kent, England, United Kingdom
Death: March 25, 1918 (29)
Favreuil, Pas-de-Calais, Hauts-de-France, France (Killed in action)
Immediate Family:

Son of Daniel Tull; Alice Elizabeth Tull and Alice Elizabeth Tull
Brother of Bertha Tull; Sapper William Tull; Cissie Tull; Edward James Alexander Tull and Elsie Seward, BEM
Half brother of Miriam Kingsland

Occupation: Footballer; Army Officer
Managed by: Bill Barnes
Last Updated:

About Second Lieutenant Walter Tull


Walter Daniel John Tull (28 April 1888 – 25 March 1918) was an English professional footballer and British Army officer of Afro-Caribbean descent. He played as an inside forward for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town and was the third person of mixed heritage to play in the top division of the Football League.

During the First World War, Tull served in the Middlesex Regiment, including in the two Footballers' Battalions. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 30 May 1917 and killed in action on 25 March 1918.

Campaigners have called for a statue to be erected in his honour and for him to be posthumously awarded the Military Cross.

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Tull was born in Folkestone, Kent, the son of Barbadian carpenter Daniel Tull and Kent-born Alice Elizabeth Palmer. His grandfather was a slave in Barbados. His maternal English grandmother was from Kent. He began his education at North Board School, now Mundella Primary School, Folkestone.

In 1895, when Walter Tull was seven, his mother died of cancer. A year later his father married Alice's [niece], Clara Palmer. She gave birth to a daughter Miriam, on 11 September 1897. Three months later Daniel died from heart disease. The stepmother was unable to cope with so many children. The resident minister of Grace Hill Wesleyan Chapel, recommended that the two boys of school-age, Walter and Edward, should be sent to the National Children's Home orphanage in Bethnal Green.

Edward was adopted by the Warnock family of Glasgow, and qualified as a dentist, the first mixed-heritage person to practise this profession in the United Kingdom.

Wikipedia


Military Career

LOTFWW


Tull made a swift transition from sport to war. In December 1914, he abandoned his football career, and volunteered to join the British Army, enlisting in the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, alongside many other professional footballers (WO 95/1361).

On 18 November 1915 Walter was posted to the Western Front, as part of the 33rd Division, 100th Brigade. Football helped counteract the boredom and monotony of life behind the lines, as many makeshift games were played. Soccer became an important feature of the men’s free time and was often seen as a galvanising force at others.

The dignity and strength with which Walter confronted blatant and vicious racism on the pitch were to serve him well on the battlefield. He was evacuated home with shell shock on 9 May 1916, returning to France on 20 September to fight in the 1st Battle of the Somme, where he survived the slaughter and was praised for his bravery. Walter showed he was a fine leader of men, receiving rapid promotion to Lance Corporal on 12 February 1915, to Corporal on 4 May 1915, then to Lance Sergeant just three days later.

With the mounting casualties the promising NCO’s were targeted as replacement officers and now something extraordinary happened. Towards the end of 1916 Walter was invalided home with trench fever. Upon leaving hospital on 26 January 1917 he was admitted to the officer cadet training school at Gailes in Scotland, to begin his training for a commission. This was unprecedented, indeed it was technically impossible. In general black officers did not command white troops and in the language of the time the 1914 Manual of Military Law specifically excluded ‘Negroes’ from exercising actual command as officers. Yet Tull’s superior officers must have recommended him and, as a result of his service on the Somme, at Messines Ridge and Passchendale, he was commissioned in May 1917. He became the first black infantry officer in the British Army, although he was not the first black officer, as at least two were serving in the Medical Corps. Nevertheless this was quite some achievement.

According to his service record (WO 339/90293) and as a newly promoted 2nd Lieutenant he was posted to the Italian front with the 23rd (2nd Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, where he was mentioned in dispatches for his ‘gallantry’, ‘coolness’ and his ‘bravery under fire’ with which he led his men in the first Battle of Piave.

In 1918 he and his men were posted back to the Western Front, where they fought in the second Battle of the Somme. The end of the First World War was in sight but tragically Walter was not to see it. On 25 March 1918, the 29 year old was killed in no-man’s land, near Favreuil, whilst leading a counter attack against the German positions (WO 95/2639). His men held him in such high regard that they risked their own lives to try to retrieve his body, which was never found. Unfortunately the recovery had to be abandoned under increasingly heavy machine gun fire. For many years his only memorial was his name on a wall at the Arras Memorial set up by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Tull’s commanding officer reported to Edward Tull, in startlingly emotional terms, on ‘how popular’ he was throughout the battalion. He was brave and conscientious…..’The battalion and company have lost a faithful officer, and personally I have lost a friend’.

"Walter Tull: from a cobbler to a soldier" (2015), National Archives

 Like so many families, Walter’s relatives had to cope with the loss of a number of family members during the Great War. Walter’s cousin Charles, son of his mother’s older brother Richard Graves Palmer and his wife Sarah, died when HMS Russell was mined on 27 April 1916. Charles is buried in Malta and commemorated at Swingfield.

Two more cousins, like Walter, have no known grave. George and Stephen Palmer were the sons of his mother’s younger brother, John Alexander Palmer and his second wife, Harriet Roseblade. They married at St Anthony of Pamiers, Alkham, on 17 January 1891. Daniel Tull and Clara Palmer were witnesses.

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Their father, John Palmer, died in St Radigund’s Road in 1921. At the inquest they gave the verdict that he had taken his own life; one of the factors in his depression was the loss of his sons during the Great War.

"Walter Tull’s Family History in Dover and Folkestone", The Dover War Memorial Project

See also:

Recognition

Tull was nominated for the Military Cross but never received one, perhaps because black and mixed race soldiers were not allowed to be officers (and there was a feeling that they should not be allowed in "white units" at all). There is now a call to award him the Military Cross posthumously.

He was on a special £5 coin was released in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the start of WW1. A blue plaque was erected on the site of his house in London and there is a statue of him in Northampton.


Birth registration


Census:

Further Reading

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Second Lieutenant Walter Tull's Timeline

1888
April 28, 1888
Folkestone, Kent, England, United Kingdom
1918
March 25, 1918
Age 29
Favreuil, Pas-de-Calais, Hauts-de-France, France