Walter Tull was born at 16 Allendale Street, Folkstone in April 1888. His father was a joiner from St Thomas Parish in Barbados and came to Britain in 1876. He married a local girl from Folkestone in 1880 and together they had six children. In 1897, Walter and his siblings were orphaned when first his mother and then his father died within two years of one another.
In 1898, Walter and his brother Edward were sent to an orphanage in London. After he finished school, he served as an apprentice printer, but in 1908 due to his footballing talent, Clapton Football club (later Leyton Orient) invited him to join them. He later came to the attention of Tottenham Hotspur and made his debut for the club in 1909. He received much praise from the footballing press.
However, during a game at Bristol, Walter was targeted with a torrent of racial abuse by a section of the crowd. Thereafter Tottenham played him mainly in the reserve team.
In February 1911 Walter came to the attention of Northampton Town Football Club, when The Cobblers were beaten 7-1 by Spurs in a reserve team fixture.
The Northampton Football Echo noted that: “After 11 minutes Tull scored a pretty goal for Tottenham.” Walter went on to score a hat trick.
By October 1911 Walter had moved to Albany Road, Northampton, and was to play over 110 games for the Cobblers first team. He later lived in Queen Street, Rushden where he also played for Rushden Town Cricket Club with his friend Eric Tompkins (who played county cricket for Northamptonshire).
In December 1914, Walter became the first Cobblers player to enlist in the First World War. Military rules had initially prevented Black people joining White regiments, but Tull fought on the Western Front in the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. In 1916, Walter was invalided out as a result of trench fever and was sent to Officer Cadet Training School in Scotland, even though Black people were officially excluded from exercising actual command because it was deemed to be bad for discipline.
In May 1917 he became Britain’s first Black infantry officer, a 2nd Lieutenant of the 23rd Middlesex (2nd Football). Walter was sent to Italy where he was mentioned in dispatches for his: “coolness and gallantry in battle”. By March 1918 he was back in France, where he was killed during the 2nd battle of the Somme near Favrenil in no-man’s land.
In 1997 an appeal was launched in Northampton to recognise Walter Tull’s achievements, inspired by research undertaken by Phil Vasili and an enthusiastic local fan. In July 1999 a memorial to Walter was finally unveiled at Sixfields the home ground of The Cobblers, and the approach road to the stadium renamed Walter Tull Way. More recently, the offices of Probabtion Services in the centre of Northampton have been renamed Walter Tull House.
Walter’s status as a war hero should also be considered in the context of other un-named Black soldiers who fought for Britain in both World Wars and other battles across the world over hundreds of years.
Plans are afoot:
1. To rename the school he attended in Folkstone as The Walter Tull School.
2. To erect a statue of Walter Tull at the newly planned Spurs Stadium
3. To replay the match between Spurs & Bristol City in memory of the racial abuse Walter suffered 100 years ago.
4. To include the story of Walter Tull in the National Curriculum
5. To erect a permanent memorial to Walter Tull in Folkstone
6. and of course… to posthumously award Walter the Victoria Cross that he was recommended to receive but did not.
Just let us know what you would like to do and send us your contact details
The Walter Tull Campaign