Walter Tull

Second Lieutenant Walter Daniel John Tull was an English officer of the British Army who died during the First World War. A professional footballer before the war, Tull enlisted in 1914, as a private, and attained the rank of serjeant before becoming the first known British-born black infantry officer to be commissioned in the Army. He served in Italy and on the Western Front, where he was killed on 25 March 1918.

He was born on 28 April 1888, in Folkestone, Kent, the fifth child of Barbadian carpenter and joiner Daniel and Alice Elizabeth Tull (née Palmer), of Hougham. After his wife died in 1895, Tull's father married Alice's cousin, Clara, with whom he had a daughter, Miriam. His father died in 1897, of heart disease, and Clara, consequently being unable to support six children, placed Walter and his brother Edward in a National Children's Home in Bethnal Green on 28 February 1898.[1] In 1900, the Warnock family of Glasgow adopted Edward, who went onto become a qualified dentist.

Tull, who trained as an apprentice printer, first played competitive football with non-league amateurs Clapton,[1]who had scouted him while he was playing for the orphanage team.[2] He went on to win the FA Amateur Cup, London County Amateur Cup, and London Senior Cup with the club in the 1909-09 season. His performances attracted recently-promoted Tottenham Hotspur, who signed him in 1909. Debuting in September, against Sunderland, Tull played only sporadically in his inaugural season, though was nonetheless praised for his coolness and passing ability. His colour was said to be an issue and he was racially abused by fans of Bristol City, who were condemned by one journalist for "language lower than Billingsgate".[1]

In exchange for a sizable transfer fee and Charlie Brittain, Tottenham transferred Tull to Southern League side Northampton Town after the 1910-11 season.[3] Under Herbert Chapman's management, Tull established himself as a regular, making some 110 appearances before his enlistment in the British Army. He volunteered in December 1914, the first from his club to do so, and joined the 17th (Service) Battalion (1st Football) of the Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex Regiment). The battalion had been constituted in the aftermath of some controversy, when footballers had been criticised for not enlisting en masse. Footballers, referees, coaches, and supporters all soon joined the battalion's strength.[4]

Tull arrived on the Western Front in November 1915. He required hospitalisation in April 1916, due to shell shock. In September, upon his return, Tull transferred to the 23rd Middlesex (2nd Football), which suffered heavy casualties in the Somme Offensive.[1] He was later recommended for a commission, despite regulations prohibiting "aliens" and those of colour being officers (a number had, nevertheless, preceded him, including Brigadier Horace Sewell, Lieutenant Nathaniel Wells, and Lieutenant-Colonel Africanus Horton). Upon completing his officer training in Britain, Tull returned to the 23rd as a second lieutenant.

His battalion transferred to the Italian theatre in November 1917. There, for his conduct during a night-time raid across the River Piave on 1-2 January 1918, Tull was mentioned in despatches for "gallantry and coolness" in commanding a covering party and extricating them without loss.[5] The 23rd returned to the Western Front two months later. Tull was shot and killed on 25 March, near Favreuil, during Germany's Spring Offensive. His commanding officer recommended him for a Military Cross, but it was not sanctioned.[1]

Tull has no known grave and is commemorated by the Arras Memorial. A garden of commemoration dedicated to Northampton Town FC's war dead, featuring a sculpture honouring Tull, was unveiled in 1999.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Phil Vasili, ‘Tull, Walter Daniel John (1888–1918)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008.
  2. Green, Jeffrey P. (1998), Black Edwardians: Black People in Britain, 1901-1914, p. 167.
  3. Vasili, Phil (2000), Colouring over the White Line: The History of Black Footballers in Britain, p. 48.
  4. Fraser, Alan (9 November 2011). "A reminder of what it's really all about... Officers and men of the 17th Middlesex". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
  5. Vasili, Phil (2000), Colouring over the White Line: The History of Black Footballers in Britain, p. 55.


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