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13 November 2014

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You are in: London > History > Remembrance > The extraordinary life of Walter Tull

Walter Tull

Walter Tull

The extraordinary life of Walter Tull

The life of a man who was one of the country's first black footballers and who then became the first black officer in the British Army is being honoured with a travelling exhibition organised by the City of Westminster Archives.

Walter Tull was born in Folkestone on the 28th April 1888. His father was a carpenter from Barbados who had moved to Kent and married a local woman. Sadly, both his parents had died by the time Walter was nine-years-old. As a result, he was taken with his brother, Edward, to live in a Methodist orphanage in Bethnal Green, East London.

Keen footballer

Young Walter showed a talent for football and was soon playing for the orphanage side. Despite starting an apprenticeship as a printer, football was always his first love. In 1908, following a successful trial, Walter was signed by a local amateur side, Clapton FC, where he would play inside-forward.

Less than a year later, after winning the FA Amateur Cup, the London Amateur County Cup and the London Senior Cup, Walter Tull was signed by Tottenham Hotspur to become Britain's first black professional outfield footballer.

Arthur Wharton, a goalkeeper for Preston North End in 1886, was the first black footballer. Wharton would also go on to play for Rotherham and Sheffield United.

Racist taunts

A journalist for the Football Star newspaper attended the Bristol City v Spurs match in 1909 and noted the appalling racism that Walter Tull was being subjected to. The journalist wrote in his report:

"Let me tell those Bristol hooligans that Tull is so clean in mind and method as to be a model for all white men who play football... In point of ability, if not actual achievement, Tull was the best forward on the field."

Walter Tull

The Great War

In October 1911 Walter Tull moved to Northampton Town where he played half-back and scored nine goals in 110 appearances. When the First World War broke out Tull abandoned his football career to join the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. His battalion arrived in France in November 1915.

In the army, Tull's leadership qualities were quickly recognised and he was promoted to sergeant. Despite military regulations forbidding 'any negro or person of colour' being commissioned as an officer, Walter was promoted to lieutenant in 1917 after attending the officer training school at Gailes, Scotland.

Walter Tull met his death while leading an attack on the Western front in March 1918. Some of his men made several attempts to bring him back to the British trenches but his body was never recovered. He was 29 years old.

Honouring Walter Tull

Today, the story of Walter's extraordinary life is not especially well-known although in 1999 Northampton Town did unveil a memorial dedicated to him at Sixfields Stadium. However, thanks to a £49,900 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, plans are now in place to celebrate his achievements.

There will be a touring exhibition and a range of activities organised by the City of Westminster Archives to mark the 90th anniversary of Walter Tull's death.

Sue Bowers of the Heritage Lottery Fund said: "This project will make an important contribution to Black British heritage and provide young Black people with an excellent role model."

Westminster Archives Education and Interpretation Officer, Peter Daniel said: "As an organisation we are committed to celebrating diversity and this funding will allow us to bring the story of a Great Black Briton to the wider audience he deserves."

Touring exhibition

One element of the project is a six-minute animated film using characters created by pupils at Mundella Primary School in Folkestone. The school (under a different name) was the one where Tull was educated before he moved to London. The film can be viewed on a website dedicated to telling Walter Tull's story.

The exhibition took place at the National Army Museum in Chelsea from September and then moved to the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster in November to coincide with Remembrance Day. It then moves to the National Football Museum in Preston before touring in Northampton, Scotland and finishing in Folkestone.

last updated: 20/11/2008 at 08:59
created: 20/02/2008

Have Your Say

I watched the documentary and was very proud that as a man first and a black man second, he carried himself with such dignity, despite the system being against him. My ancestery is Bajan ans that made me doubly proud.

I went to the Walter Tull Exhibition and performance at the Methodist Hall, and am actually shocked that before then [and before the docu-drama and documentaries} so little people had even heard about this hero. It just goes to show that the curriculum in schools now doesn't focus on some of the things that should be talked about and discussed. It was so amazing to see all of the kids at the performance enjoying it so much, and I spoke to a few of them who were so excited about learning about Walter Tull. Please sign the petition for Walter Tull to recieve his well deserved Military Cross.Thank you to Westminster Archives for allowing this unsung hero to finally be recognised =]

What an amazingly moving and inspirational story, and made me proud to be a Spurs fan...although the club needs to do alot more to recognise Tull's achievements and place in History. The campaign should start now to have one of the stands at the proposed new ground named after him

zain M age 6
I am a big fan of Walter Tull.I am learning about Walter Tull at my school.We even,made, a poster, of Walter Tull.evryone in the class did him as a footballer, but I did him as a, soilder!

I watched the documentary and the dramatisation on bbc last night and both programmes left me knowing that walter's story will leave a lasting impression on live a life he did and to conquer all the bigots and to achieve what he did should be an inspiration to us all.a true british hero.

Crossing The White Line
City of Westminster Archives has been working on a year long project about Walter Tull. The aim is to get Walter's story taught as part of the National Curriculum. Please check out and forward on the

Miss Linton
An inspirational story. I suggest Matt take a visit to the exhibition, maybe he will be inspired as i am and learn something new. Knowledge is power Matt.

I watched this too and was very moved by it, as I have been by all the rememberance services over last weekend. Let's forget about colour for a moment. This is a great story about a human being who persevered against all the odds and triumphed. It showed that he had huge character and would not allow obstacles or prejudices to hold him back. I wish some of our younger generation had an ounce of what Walter Tull had.

There was a docu-drama about Walter on tv a few days ago, the guy who played Walter is the brother of a guy I know, OT Fagbenle, very good actor. Anyway having known the Walter Tull story for a while it was great to see the drama. I think when we celebrate individuals of the war we arent only recognising them, merely giving a face to some of the people who there were records of, such as the poet Wilfred Owen. When we remember them we are in essence remembering everyone who served and fell because its impossible to imagine a scene of war with only 1 person in our mind. It just brings it alive abit more by giving a personal touch to something which happened so many years ago.

Where several comments have been made in this forum regarding why others have not been recognised. This man having come through several traumas at such a young age as diverse as it was then but then develop into the man that many of us dream of is. It is just unfortunate that the day and age we live in Walter will never get the recognition he really deserves. Why cant Walter Tull with this type of integrity and love of his country who was born in Folkestone a true brit in my eyes albeit from 90 yrs ago be publicly recognised with a military cross its disgraceful that it is ignored. If people can get honoured for emptying bins or being a lolly pop lady why not Walter????

Ken Toye
Great to see an unsung hero remembered. Football must be full of such examples. There was an aborigine who signed for Man.United. 1920's(?) He was sent back to Australia because of his race and forced to live in a township.Loads of question marks here. Information please. Also what happened to the Chinese, signed up to serve as labourers on the Western front in 1914? More medals due? Friendship to all, Ken Toye

remember rangers playing for the walter tull cup and thought,who? now I am aware of this individual,never mind his colour,but the sort of man our boys needed in those hellis times,his family deserve to see his honour recognised.

Peter Murphy
May I say that, like many others, I have been very touched by this extraordinary man. He is a hero, in the best traditions of the word. I strongly feel he should receive his decoration for his valour and courage,and conduct,as an officer and a gentlemen,under heavy fire,in the Somme he fought all his life,then he gave his life like so many others. The man has fought with honour in life I say to the powers that be,please honour him,give him the recognition he deserves not because of colour or race, but for the ultimate sacrifice(giving your life for your country)the greatest sacrifice of all.

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