Local Hero – Walter Tull

Walter Tull has been making the headlines a century after his death on 25 March 1918, amid calls to posthumously award him the Military Cross he was believed to have been recommended for during the First World War, but never received.

On Sunday 25 March 2018, a centenary commemoration service for Walter took place at the Step Short Memorial Arch in Folkestone, close to the plaque that bears his name. Military historian Liam Tarry (right of photo) spoke about Walter’s life and his inspirational military career which ended in battle at Favreuil. Piper Ben Milbery (left of photo) then played the Lament Flowers of the Forest.

Second Lieutenant Walter Tull’s story resonates today for many reasons, most notably for the racism he fought and rose above to become the British Army’s first British-born mixed race officer to lead troops into battle. Walter’s experiences also help to raise awareness of the diversity of those involved in WW1, extending far beyond the traditional representation of the British ‘Tommy’ or upper-class officer. The Indian Army, the Chinese Labour Corps, other black soldiers such as Private William Nurse, and thousands of women all played a significant part in the war, along with Commonwealth troops.

Walter was born in Folkestone in 1888 to Daniel and Alice Tull, a Barbadian carpenter and his wife who came from a local farming family. He seemed to enjoy happy working class family life until the deaths of both his mother and father in quick succession. At the age of nine, Walter and his brother Edward (the youngest boys of five siblings) were sent to a children’s home in Bethnal Green, East London. Despite this very tough end to his childhood and the prejudice rife at this time, he went on to become one of the country’s first black professional footballers before enlisting with the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment in December 1914.

Awareness of Walter’s story and support for his posthumous award has been growing in recent years. Campaigner and biographer Phil Vasili recently spoke at Folkestone Museum about the launch of the latest edition of his book Walter Tull 1888 to 1918, Footballer and Officer. The museum is planning an exhibition about Walter to open in autumn 2018.

For more information about Walter Tull and his legacy, go to the Walter Tull Archive, Lives of the First World War and Phil Vasili’s website.

Folkestone 100 Years: Armistice Centenary March, 22 July 2018

Step Short has a busy summer season ahead as we near the culmination of four years of WW1 centenary commemorations. For this very special year we will be holding our annual march on Sunday 22 July, with a variety of commemorative events taking place in Folkestone during the summer.

The march will begin with all groups assembling outside the Leas Cliff Hall at 10.15am, ahead of a service at the Step Short Arch beginning at 11.00am. Lord Boyce, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, will unveil the last two plaques at the Memorial Arch followed by the laying of wreaths. After the service, there will be a walk down the Road of Remembrance to the harbour area. Free tea and coffee will be served at the Grand Burstin Hotel and participants can pre-book tickets for a post-service buffet at the Grand Burstin Hotel for £10 per person. Email [email protected] for more information.

Other WW1 centenary events in Folkestone include a photographic exhibition at Folkestone Town Hall organised by the Folkestone & District Local History Society during June and July; the Invicta Band performing at the Leas Cliff Hall on Wednesday 18 July (see flyer to left); guided history walks and talks on Saturday 21 July; a planned performance of the play ‘My Boy Jack’ by David Haig; and Hythe Town Band performing on the Leas Bandstand on the afternoon of 22 July.

And don’t forget, the Mole Café on the Harbour Arm is open weekends and bank holidays until the end of October. Mark Simmonds, Step Short’s Membership Secretary, will be there running his regular genealogy sessions on the last Saturday of the month between 10am and 2pm, May to September, for anyone interested in exploring their own family’s WW1 history.

We hope you’ll be inspired to get involved, perhaps discover something new, and help to remember those who lived in, came from or passed through Folkestone during WW1.