EXTRACTS FROM : WALTER TULL
SPURS, GERS & THE SOMME. A BRITISH HERO.
• THE MOST DIFFICULT OF CHILDHOODS
Walter Daniel Tull was born in Folkestone in April 1888. His father from Barbados had arrived on the south coast in 1876 and he subsequently married a local girl. Walter was one of their 6 children but sadly circumstances were to make it the most difficult of childhoods. Walter’s mother died in 1895 when he was aged 7, his father soon remarried but 2 years later he was also to die. His stepmother tried in vain to bring up all 6 children but alas could not cope, Walter and his brother Edward arrived wearing rags at the Methodist orphanage in Bethnal Green, East London. Walter’s late father had been a Methodist.
Then to add further trauma, Edward soon left his side to be adopted by a family in Scotland. It was also a time when too many people held ignorant attitudes towards ’s then small black population but to put it into context, Walter’s Grandfather himself had been a slave.
• AMATEUR CUP WINNER
Football helped take Walter’s mind away from this most deprived of childhoods and he displayed a rare talent as the star of the Orphanage team. Diligently he had trained and worked as a Printer and football was his hobby. In 1908 his football career was to take an interesting turn. He made his debut for top Amateur team, Clapton FC (not to be mistaken with League Club Clapton Orient now better known as Leyton Orient) and went on to make a big contribution as the East London Club won 3 trophies in 1908-09. Including the nationally contested FA Amateur Cup.
• JOINING SPURS & MAKING HISTORY
His talent was obvious to any watching scout and there were plenty. Yet at that point, there had never been a black outfield footballer in the Football League and there had only been 1 previous black player, Arthur Wharton, Preston North End’s goalkeeper. The only other non white footballers to have played in the League were the mixed race Anglo-Indian Cother brothers who played for Watford. Spurs decided to break the mould and he joined the club in Summer 1909 for a then handsome £10 signing on fee and salary of £4 per week. It was an exciting time to be at the club as they had just won promotion to England’s top Division for the 1st time.
One of Walter’s first duties as a professional was to join the team for a long voyage across the oceans for a 7 game tour ofArgentina andUruguay. Walter became the first black professional to play in these two historic football nations.
• 1 STEP BACK
Spurs were prepared to sell Walter and he was snapped up by Northampton Town’s manager, Herbert Chapman in Autumn 1911. (Any reader of the book will need no introduction to this superb and visionary manager). Mr Chapman paid a record club fee for Walter’s services and he was handsomely repaid. Chapman immediately made the most of Walter’s talents by playing him further back in a half back or midfield role. Walter flourished, so I would suggest that those who thought Walter was a better creator than goalscorer were spot on. Though no doubt he could only have developed playing under the great Chapman before Chapman left for Leeds United in 1912, I also suspect that the setback at Spurs made him even more determined to succeed. The Northampton crowd made him more than a cult hero, he was in fact their favourite player at a time when Chapman had transformed the ‘Cobblers’ from an appropriately nicknamed club into a very competitive outfit.
Certain elements in away crowds would try but to unsettle him with abuse, but as Bristol City fans found out, it actually made him play better. During his time at Northampton he made 110 senior appearances and scored 9 goals.
• 2 STEPS FORWARD. JOINING RANGERS
In 1914 a number of clubs were keen to sign the 26 year old now at the peak of his talents. For Walter, the most intriguing offer came fromScotland. Not only would it enable him to play in a Championship winning team alongside international players but it would reunite him with his brother Edward who still lived inScotland. They had always remained in touch and Edward like his brother had also overcome his traumatic childhood to become a successful dentist in Glasgow. The interested team was none other than Rangers who were ready to break the mould in Scottish football. The transfer was being finalised when World War 1 broke out.
Ignore the wicked innuendo peddled by the club’s enemies, (Most shamefully in recent times by Celtic Chairman John Reid. If ever there was someone who should take a long hard look at themself before casting aspersions upon anyone else.) As you can see Rangers have longer than any other Scottish club been keen to attract players with skill and real strength of character, skin colour is completely irrelevant.
• AND THE REAL HEROICS IN THE SOMME
Walter quickly signed up for active service with the 17th and 23rd Battalions of the Middlesex Division which was better known as the 1st and 2nd Football Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. The Regiment an example of the many ‘Pals Battalions’ that comprised of men who enlisted together at special local recruiting drives so that they would be able to serve alongside friends, neighbours and workmates.
In July 1916 Walter participated in the Somme offensive, one of the bloodiest and horrific campaigns in the history of British Warfare. The very same time and place that the 36th Ulster Division passed into military folklore for some of the greatest acts of valour and heroism ever shown by a British Unit. It was also a place where Walter excelled with his courageous soldiering and he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
• WHAT CHARACTER
In December 1916 Walter developed ‘Wolhynia Fever,’ a very unpleasant and potentially serious disease that infected over a million soldiers in both World Wars and became better known as ‘Trench Fever’. Its symptoms included high fever, severe pain and required a long period of recuperation and Walter returned toEngland. Upon recovery, the true extent of his previous war time efforts and leadership potential were recognised, he was sent to the officer training school in Gailes,Scotland. Even though military regulations expressly forbade, “any negro or person of ‘colour’ being an officer.” In May 1917, he was awarded the rank of Lieutenant and achieved the distinction of becoming the first ever black officer to serve in the British Army.
Second Lieutenant Tull of the 23rd Battalion of the Middlesex regiment was sent to the Italian frontline and led from the front at the Battle of Piave. Despatches noted his gallantry and coolness under fire and in January 1918 he was recommended for the Military Cross. Unlike so many other young men who so sadly never returned, he characteristically looked set to defy the odds and survive the human carnage.
• ABSENT FRIEND
Walter and his unit were then sent back toFrance to assist on the Western Front in what had become known as the 2nd Battle of the Somme. On 25th March 1918, Second Lieutenant Tull led his men over the trenches in Fauvreuil. The next instant, a bullet struck Walter and he was laid out hopelessly in the mud. His men tried vainly under sustained German bombardment to rescue their leader but could not get to him. Had they reached him it would have been futile, the bullet went through Walter’s head. Both his subordinates and superiors were devastated at the loss of the popular 29 year old. When his commanding officer broke the sad news to Edward Tull he commented, “The battalion and company have lost a faithful officer, and personally I have lost a friend.” Walter’s body was never recovered and over the years his memory and contribution to the campaign, like so many others were forgotten. All that remained was the inscription of his name amongst the tens of thousands of others on the memorial wall of the Fauborg-Amiens War Cemetery in Northern France.