Walter Tull

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Walter Tull
Personal information
Full name Walter Daniel John Tull
Date of birth (1888-04-28)28 April 1888
Place of birth Folkestone, England
Date of death 25 March 1918(1918-03-25) (aged 29)
Place of death Pas-de-Calais, France
Playing position Midfielder
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1908–1909 Clapton
1909–1911 Tottenham Hotspur 10 (2)
1911–1914 Northampton Town 111 (9)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

Walter Daniel John Tull (28 April 1888 – 25 March 1918) was an English professional footballer who played as an inside forward for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town. He was the third person of mixed heritage to play in the top division of the Football League, after Arthur Wharton of Sheffield United and Billy Clarke of Aston Villa. His professional football career began after he was spotted playing for top amateur club, Clapton. He had signed for Clapton in October 1908, reportedly never playing in a losing side. By the end of the season he had won winners' medals in the FA Amateur Cup, London County Amateur Cup and London Senior Cup. In March 1909 the Football Star called him "the catch of the season".[1][2][3]

From the age of 9, Tull was brought up in the (Methodist) Children's Home and Orphanage (now known as Action for Children) in Bethnal Green, London, along with his brother, Edward, following the death of their parents. He joined Tottenham in the summer of 1909. His first senior games were in Argentina and Uruguay on the club's close season tour to South America. He made his home Football League debut against FA Cup holders, Manchester United, in front of over 30,000. His excellent form in this opening part of the season promised a great future. However, at a match away to Bristol City in October 1909 Tull was the target of vicious racist abuse. So incensed was the 'Football Star' reporter, DD, that his match report was headlined 'Football and the Colour Prejudice'. This is possibly the first time racial abuse was headlined in a football report. DD was keen to emphasis how Tull remained professional and composed despite the intense provocation. 'He is Hotspur's most brainy forward ... so clean in mind and method as to be a model for all white men who play football ... Tull was the best forward on the field'. However, soon after he was soon dropped from the first team and found it difficult to get a sustained run back in the side in which he started so well. He played most of his subsequent games for the reserves and was eventually transferred to Herbert Chapman's Northampton Town in 1911, where he made 111 first-team appearances. Interestingly, Chapman – also a Methodist – was a former Spurs player and had played as a young man with Arthur Wharton at Stalybridge Rovers. He went on to manage both Huddersfield Town and Arsenal to FA Cup wins and League championships and is recognised as one of the great managers in the history of the Football League.

During the First World War, Tull served in the Footballers' Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, and fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 30 May 1917. Tull fought in Italy in 1917–18, and was mentioned in dispatches for "gallantry and coolness" while leading his company of 26 men on a raiding party into enemy territory. Tull was the first black army officer to lead troops. He returned to France in 1918, and was killed in action on 25 March during the Spring Offensive; his body was never recovered.

Campaigners have called for a statue to be erected in his honour. In December 2006 Phil Vasili and Northampton South MP Brian Binley launched a campaign for Tull to be posthumously awarded the Military Cross.

Early life[edit]

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.[4] His maternal English grandmother was from Kent. He began his education at North Board School, now Mundella Primary School, Folkestone.[5]

In 1895, when Walter Tull was seven, his mother died of cancer. A year later his father married Alice's cousin, 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.[6]

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.[7]

Football career[edit]

His football career started at Clapton where he played alongside Clyde Honeysett Purnell and Charlie Rance in the team that won the London County Amateur Cup, the London Senior Cup and FA Amateur Cup in 1908–09.

At the age of 21, Tull signed for Tottenham Hotspur in 1909, after a close-season tour of Argentina and Uruguay, making him the first mixed-heritage professional footballer to play in Latin America. Tull made his debut for Tottenham in September 1909 at inside forward against Sunderland, making him the third mixed-heritage player to play in the top division (after goalkeeper Arthur Wharton of Sheffield United, and Billy Clarke of Aston Villa. Tull made only 10 first-team appearances, scoring twice, before he was dropped to the reserves.[8] This may have been due to the racial abuse he received from opposing fans, particularly at Bristol City, whose supporters used language "lower than Billingsgate", according to a report at the time in the Football Star newspaper.[9]

Further appearances in the first team (20 in total with four goals) were recorded before Tull was bought by Herbert Chapman's Northampton Town on 17 October 1911 for a "substantial fee" plus Charlie Brittain joining Tottenham Hotspur in return.[10] Tull made his debut four days later against Watford, and made in all 111 first-team appearances and nine goals for the club. He lived in Rushden and at one time at the home of Miss Annie Williams at 26 Queen Street.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914 Tull enlisted in the British Army, in December, the first Northampton Town player to do so. It was reported in the Glasgow Evening Times in 1940, during the Second World War, in an article about Tull being the first 'coloured' infantry officer in the British Army, that he had signed to play for Rangers once the war was over. This has since been confirmed, with Rangers informing Tull had signed for them in February 1917, while in Scotland training to be an officer.

World War I[edit]

During the First World War Tull served in both Footballers' Battalions of the Middlesex Regiment, 17th and 23rd, and also in the 5th Battalion, rising to the rank of sergeant and fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. When Tull was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 30 May 1917 (still in the Middlesex Regiment), he became the first mixed-heritage infantry officer in a regular British Army regiment, despite the 1914 Manual of Military Law specifically excluding soldiers that were not 'of pure European descent' from becoming commissioned officers.[11] (Nathaniel Wells, the son of a white plantation owner and a black slave, received a Yeomanry commission in 1818;[12] George Bemand was commissioned in the Royal Field Artillery in 1915, although on his attestation form he categorises himself as being of 'pure European descent'; and David Clemetson was commissioned in the territorial Pembroke Yeomanry in October 1915[13]). Tull's superior officers recommended him for a commission regardless. Tull fought on the Italian Front from November 1917 to early March 1918. He was cited for his "gallantry and coolness" by Major-General Sydney Lawford, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 41st Division, having led 26 men on a night raiding party, crossing the fast-flowing rapids of the River Piave into enemy territory and returning them unharmed, and in a letter of condolence to his family, 2nd-Lt Pickhard said that "he had been recommended for the Military Cross, and certainly earned it."[2][14] However, the MoD claim that there is no record of any such recommendation in his service files in the National Archives.[15][16] He returned to northern France on 8 March 1918 and was killed in action on 25 March during the early stages of the German Army's Spring Offensive, near the village of Favreuil in the Pas-de-Calais. His body was never recovered, despite the efforts of Private Billingham to return him while under fire.


Tull is remembered at the Arras Memorial, Bay 7, for those who have no known grave.[17] He fought in six battles: Battle of Ancre, November 1916 (first Battle of the Somme); Battle of Messines, June 1917; 3rd Battle of Ypres, July–November 1917 (Battle of the Menin Road Ridge); September 1917; Second Battle of the Somme St. Quentin, March 1918; Battle of Bapaume, March 1918.


In the history of mixed-heritage footballers in Britain, Tull may be mentioned alongside Robert Walker, Andrew Watson, an amateur, who is credited as the earliest black international football player, winning his first cap for Scotland in 1881, Arthur Wharton, a goalkeeper for Darlington, Preston North End, Rotherham United, Stalybridge Rovers, Ashton North End and Stockport County who became the first mixed-heritage professional in 1889, John Walker, the Anglo-Indian Cother brothers at Watford, W.G. Clarke (Aston Villa) and his brother Edward who played for Ayr Parkhouse and Girvan Athletic. (For more information on the history of players of colour in Britain see Phil Vasili, Colouring Over the White Line, Edinburgh, Mainstream 2000).

Campaigners have called for a statue to be erected in his honour at Dover,[9] and Northampton South MP Brian Binley and Phil Vasili, has begun campaigning for Tull to be posthumously awarded the Military Cross.[18] However, as the Military Cross was not authorized to be awarded posthumously until 1979, and the change did not include any provision for retrospective awards, this would not be possible without a complete change in the rules for awarding that medal. Campaigners feel this would be justified given that the army broke the rules in their favour in allowing Tull a commission at a time when, after the end of the Battle of the Somme in November 1916, the army was desperately short of officers. It therefore suited the needs of the army for Tull to be commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Unfortunately, when the recommendation for his Military Cross was considered at elite level, his 'illegal' status as an officer of non-European descent meant to award him the honour would validate his status, leading to more mixed-heritage officers being commissioned, something the Army Council continued to resist to the end of the war.[19] Seen in this context, Tull was a victim of his own success as a well respected and efficient but unique mixed-heritage officer. Campaigners argue a unique precedent was set in making Tull an officer but natural justice denied when he was rejected for the MC because of his illegal status as a mixed-heritage officer. A unique precedent should now be made in his favour, they suggest, to balance the scales of justice.


Walter Tull memorial at the Sixfields Stadium, Northampton

On Sunday 11 July 1999, Northampton Town F.C. unveiled a memorial to Walter in a dedicated Garden of Remembrance at Sixfields Stadium.[20] The epitaph, written by Phil Vasili, the author of Colouring Over the White Line: History of Black Footballers in Britain and Walter Tull, 1888–1918, Officer, Footballer, reads:

Through his actions, Tull ridiculed the barriers of ignorance that tried to deny people of colour equality with their contemporaries. His life stands testament to a determination to confront those people and those obstacles that sought to diminish him and the world in which he lived. It reveals a man, though rendered breathless in his prime, whose strong heart still beats loudly.[21]

The road that runs behind the North Stand (The Dave Bowen Stand) at Sixfields Stadium is named Walter Tull Way.

In 2004, Tottenham Hotspur and Rangers contested the "Walter Tull Memorial Cup". Rangers won the Cup after defeating Spurs 2–0 with goals from Dado Pršo and Nacho Novo on 28 July.[22]

On 8 January 2009, plans were announced in the media to construct a statue in Tull's memory outside the proposed new Tottenham Hotspur ground. Early backers of an online petition included Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.[23]

As of 29 June 2010, plans to erect a bronze memorial statue of Tull in the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, which lies within the grounds of the Imperial War Museum, had reached the stage of formal consultation with local residents. Permission for the statue was later refused by Southwark council.[24]

On 21 October 2014, a blue plaque was unveiled at 77 Northumberland Park, London N17, on the site of the former house where Tull lived before the war, close to the White Hart Lane ground. The plaque was provided by the Nubian Jak Community Trust and was unveiled by former Spurs striker Garth Crooks who described Tull as an "amazing man," whose recognition had been " a long time coming".[25]


The definitive biography 'Walter Tull, 1888–1918, Officer, Footballer. "All the guns in France couldn't wake me" ' Phil Vasili was published by Raw Press, 2009.

Plans are under way to make a film about the life of Walter Tull, with a screenplay written by Phil Vasili, based upon his biography Walter Tull, 1888–1918, Officer, Footballer, optioned by Artful Films.[26][27][28][29]

Phil Vasili's play Tull, directed by David Thacker, had a successful 3 week run at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, February–March 2013. and was adapted by Tottenham Theatre and staged in July 2014 at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Tottenham.

Walter's War, a drama about the life of Walter Tull, starring O. T. Fagbenle and written by Kwame Kwei-Armah, was made by UK channel BBC Four and screened on 9 November 2008 as part of the BBC's Ninety Years of Remembrance season. It drew 406,000 viewers and was the third most watched programme on BBC4 during the week ending 9 November 2008.[citation needed] The drama was aired alongside Forgotten Hero, a documentary about Tull and had the highest viewing figures for a documentary in the week it was aired. It received excellent reviews and was recommended for numerous awards but received none. It was repeated on just two occasions.

Two films have been made for Teachers TV focusing on teaching about Walter Tull, and were launched in May 2008.[30][31]

Respect! a factual account of the life of Walter Tull written for young people by Michaela Morgan was published by Barrington Stoke in 2005. The book was shortlisted in the Birmingham Libraries young readers' book festival May 2008.[32]

A book about Tull for young readers, Walter Tull: Footballer, Soldier, Hero, written by Dan Lyndon, was published by Collins Educational in January 2011.[33]

A Medal for Leroy (2012) by Michael Morpurgo is inspired by the life of Tull.[34]

In 2014, Gazebo Theatre, based in Bilston Town Hall, toured a play about the life of Walter Tull, entitled The Hallowed Turf. It was presented in Wolverhampton on 3 October to launch the city's Black History Month.[35]


  1. ^ Phil Vasili 'Tull, a forgotten black history' Race and Class, Vol.38, October–December 1996, Number 2.
  2. ^ a b Phil Vasili 'Walter Tull, 1888–1918, Officer, Footballer' (London, Raw Press 2009)
  3. ^ Rod Wickens 'From Claret to Khaki' (Liverpool, 2003)
  4. ^ Dan Lyndon, Walter Tull: Footballer, Soldier, Hero, London: Collins Educational, 2011.
  5. ^ "The Extraordinary Life of Walter Tull". BBC. Retrieved 13 June 2008. 
  6. ^ – Biography of Walter Tull
  7. ^ Phil Vasili (September 2004). "Tull, Walter Daniel John (1888–1918)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/62348. (Subscription required (help)). 
  8. ^ Topspurs A-Z of players. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  9. ^ a b Sapsted, David (13 June 2008). "Call to honour black Army hero". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 April 2007. 
  10. ^ Garland, Jon. "Racism and Anti-Racism in Football". Palgrave Macmillan. p. 32. Retrieved 10 May 2001. 
  11. ^ "No. 30134". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 June 1917. p. 5970. 
  12. ^ W. H. Wyndham-Quin (2005) [1898]. The Yeomanry Cavalry of Gloucestershire and Monmouth. Golden Valley. ISBN 0-9542578-5-5. 
  13. ^ The officer who refused to lie about being black, BBC News Magazine, 17 April 2015
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Casualty details—Tull, Walter Daniel John". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 28 November 2008. 
  18. ^ "Medal campaign for black pioneer", BBC News, 23 June 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2008.
  19. ^
  20. ^ "In Memoriam", Northampton Town FC website.
  21. ^ War memorials Archive.
  22. ^ "Rangers see off sorry Spurs". BBC Sport. 28 July 2004. 
  23. ^ "Support for statue of Spurs war hero at new stadium". MailOnline. 8 January 2009. 
  24. ^ "Details of planning application – 10/AP/1361". London Borough of Southwark. 21 May 2010. Retrieved 1 July 2010. 
  25. ^ Centenary news Retrieved 30 April 2015
  26. ^ Vasili, Phil (2009). Walter Tull, 1888–1918, Officer, Footballer. London: Raw Press. ISBN 978-0-9563954-0-5. 
  27. ^ "History of Black Footballers in Britain". Phil Vasili. Retrieved 13 June 2008. 
  28. ^ "Film being produced about Walter Tull's life". Follow Follow. Retrieved 21 June 2006. 
  29. ^ "Walter the first Black officer and footballer". Camden New Journal. Retrieved 13 June 2008. 
  30. ^ "Walter Tull – Race, Football and Black Britain 1909". Teachers' TV. Retrieved 30 April 2008. 
  31. ^ "Walter Tull – the Pupils' Perspective". Teachers' TV. Retrieved 30 April 2008. 
  32. ^ Birmingham libraries book festival 2008, 30 July 2008.
  33. ^ Lydon, Dan (2011). Walter Tull:Footballer, Soldier, Hero. Collins Educational. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-00-733637-1. 
  34. ^ Morpurgo, Michael (September 2012). A Medal For Leroy. HarperCollins childrens books. ISBN 978-0007339686. 
  35. ^ The Hallowed Turf at Gazebo Theatre website, accessed 18 October 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Vasili, Phil (2009). Walter Tull, 1888–1918, Officer, Footballer. All the Guns in France Couldn't Wake Me. London: Raw Press. ISBN 9780956395405. 
  • Vasili, Phil (1996). "Tull, a forgotten black history". Race and Class. 38 (2). ISSN 0306-3968. 
  • Vasili, Phil (2000). Colouring Over the White Line: History of Black Footballers in Britain. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1-84018-296-2. 
  • Lewis, Maureen; Jillian Powell; Bernice Barry (2005). Fields of Glory: The Diary of Walter Tull. Longman. ISBN 0-582-85155-6.  (Please note: this is a fictional diary. There is no surviving diary written by Walter Tull.)

External links[edit]