Little Known Black History Fact: Lieutenant Walter Tull

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  • Walter Tull was the first black combat officer in Britain. Controversy surrounds his tenure as one who deserved a Military Cross – one of the highest British honors. Although two officers recorded that he was worthy of it, he was not given the medal because he was black.

    Tull was born in Folkestone, England in April 1888. His grandfather was a slave and his father was an immigrant of Barbados. After losing his mother at age seven, then his father two years later, Tull was sent to an orphanage in Bethel Green, London.

    Tull was an amateur footballer that won several team cups in the 1908-1909 seasons. He became the second black man to be signed to a professional football team, the Tottenham Hotspur – behind Arthur Wharton, who was the first to sign in 1886.

    Although major clubs like the Glasgow Rangers was seeking him, Tull dedicated his services to the British Army during WWI in 1914. In 1916, he suffered from trench fever and was sent back home to England to recover. Tull had impressed his senior officers so much while in service, he was recommended for promotion within the ranks. He chose to attend officer training school at Gailes in Scotland.
    Although it was a written rule that a person of color was not to receive military training, Tull received his officer commission in 1917.

    Tull was first sent to the Italian front lines to lead men in the Battle of Piave. A gallant fighter, Tull soon took on the brutal front line trenches in Germany at Favreuil. When he entered No Man’s Land, a bullet hit him in the head. He was killed on impact in 1918. His men tried to bring his body back across the British line, but were unsuccessful. His body was never found. He was 29 years old.

    Writer and Producer Phil Vasili and Director David Thacker plan to bring Tull’s story to the stage in February 2013, then to film.

    Michael Morpurgo, author of "War Horse and Private Peaceful," recently published A Medal For Leroy, dedicated to Lieutenant Walter Tull and draws heavily on his story. He is also assisting the effort to get the Military Cross for Tull’s heroism and bravery in the line of fire. The effort is spearheaded by Brian Binley, an MP in Tory.

     

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