Walter Tull Biography

Through November this year, the EFL and all 72 member clubs are uniting.

They will pay tribute to fallen servicemen, women and former players as part of Remembrance Sunday commemorations and the First World War Centenary, with the 18th November marking 100 years since the end of the Battle of the Somme.

Across all of the 72 member clubs between 12-19th November, there will be a minute’s silence and an EFL wreath laid on the pitch prior to kick-off to remember and honour all of those that have fallen in battle.

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As part of the commemorations, we have linked up with the Royal British Legion’s ‘Sport Remembers the Somme’ campaign to share just some of the stories of footballers from league clubs who fought in the First World War.

Here, we tell the story of Walter Tull…

Against the odds – Walter Tull’s remarkable career as a footballer and a soldier

The first mixed-race combat officer in the British Army, Walter Tull was also associated with another fascinating piece of military history: he fought in the Football Battalion – a unit created for professional footballers turned soldiers.

Walter Tull was born in Folkestone, Kent, in 1888, the son of a Barbadian father and an English mother. Tull became one of the first black professional footballers in the UK, playing for Clapton, Tottenham and Northampton Town during his career.

Until the outbreak of the war in 1914, Tull made 111 appearances for Northampton Town, earning the maximum allowable wage for a footballer of £4 per week. He then joined the Football Battalion created for professional footballers as part of the Pals battalion scheme. Around 2,000 footballers came forward and nearly half were to lose their lives.

The Army soon recognised Tull’s leadership qualities and he was quickly promoted to the rank of Sergeant, going on to fight in the Battle of the Somme with the 2nd Football Battalion (23rd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment).

After surviving the conflict that took so many lives, Tull trained to become an officer in 1917 and was made a Second Lieutenant. He was the first mixed-race combat officer in the British Army, despite military regulations forbidding “any negro or person of colour” being an officer. At the time, military chiefs and the Government believed that white men would not take orders from a non-white officer – Tull was to prove them wrong.

Tull fought in Italy between 1917 and 1918. During this time, he was commended for his “gallantry and coolness” for leading 26 men on a night mission, crossing the fast-flowing rapids of the River Piave into enemy territory and returning his men unharmed. Soon after this, Tull was recommended for a Military Cross.

He returned to northern France in 1918 but was killed in action on 25 March during the Spring Offensive, near the village of Favreuil in the Pas-de-Calais. His body was never recovered, despite the efforts of his comrades.

His name appears on the Arras Memorial and a memorial to him was unveiled in 1999 at Northampton Town FC’s ground.

In 2014, Walter Tull was commemorated in a limited edition £5 coin from the Royal Mint, issued on the Centenary of Britain’s entry into the First World War. 
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