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.