As last month was Black History Month I have decided to kick off this blog with some profiles over the next few weeks which will focus on some of the unsung black heroes to have made a significant contribution to both American and British history.
Born in 1888 in Folkestone, Kent, Walter Tull is undeniably an unsung hero in black British history. His father, Daniel Tull, who hailed from the Caribbean Island of Barbados and was a carpenter by trade, moved to England where he met and married Alice Palmer (Walter’s mother) in 1880. Tragedy struck however in 1895 when at the age of just 7 years old, Walter’s mother died from breast cancer. Two years passed before Walter’s father would remarry again. Just as it seemed the family had cleared all the hurdles another was put in their way when Daniel sadly passed away to heart disease. It was a devastating blow to Walter and his siblings. During those dark years, Walter became particularly close to his older brother by 2 years – Edward. They played together at home and attended the same school. However, Walter’s stepmother found it increasingly difficult to look after the children on her own and felt she had no other choice than to give the children up for adoption. Luckily both Walter and Edward (aged 9 and 11 respectively) were accepted into a children’s orphanage in Bethnal Green, East London. It was during his time there that Walter began to develop an interest in football, playing for the orphanage football team. Then one day there was a knock at the door. It was a couple from Scotland looking to adopt a child from the orphanage and to Walter’s dismay they chose his brother, Edward. Suddenly Walter found himself alone and heart broken. His school work suffered. His only hope was football and it was while he was playing for the Clapton School boys team that he was scouted and approached by Tottenham Hotspur where he was known to have been one of the first players of black origin to have played in the English Football League. While today it is every aspiring footballers dream to play for a top English football side, the experience was bittersweet for Walter who was a constant target for chants which often referred to his skin along with monkey sounds reverberating around the stadium each time he got a touch on the ball. As a result his career did not last very long at Tottenham. In 1911 he was sold to Northampton Town for whom he went on to play over 100 matches and scoring over a dozen goals.
Then on the 4th of August 1914, football was put on hold as the country went to war with Germany. Many footballers, Walter included, were enlisted into the British army. Walter, who had been used to lost, separation and suffering would use these experiences to make him stronger. His strength of character and determination would lead his superiors to hand him a commanding role in the army in 1917, when under his leadership he would successfully return from two separate missions without any casualties to his predominantly white soldiers. However, Walter (aged 29) was killed during battle, on 25th March 1918 on French soil and though clearly noted for his coolness and gallantry, has to this day (despite widespread campaigns) not been awarded the Military Cross for his leadership during the war.
Darell J Philip is a freelance writer who also blogs at: darellphilip.wordpress.com