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Campaign for football’s WW1 hero heats up

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

A campaign to posthumously award Walter Tull the Military Cross is gathering momentum. Tull was one of the first black footballers to play in the English top-flight and lost his life in the battlefields of France during the First World War.

After making 120 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town, scoring 11 goals, Tull served in the Footballers’ Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. In October 2010 the Football League unveiled a memorial to the soldiers of the Footballers’ Battalions.

Tull rose to the rank of Sergeant and fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. When Tull was commissioned as Second Lieutenant on 30th May 1917 he became the first black combat officer in the British Army. This was despite military regulations forbidding any “negro or person of colour” becoming an infantry officer.

He fought in Italy during 1917-18 and was singled out for his “gallantry and coolness” having led his company of 26 men on a night-time offensive. It is thought he was then recommended for a Military Cross but, tragically, he lost his life before ever receiving it.

On returning to northern France Tull was killed in action during the Spring Offensive on 25th March 1918, near the village of Favreuil in the Calais region. He was only 29 and his body was never recovered, despite the efforts of his men to retrieve it from no man’s land.

Legacy

However, Tull’s legacy lives on and in 2004 Spurs and Rangers contested the Walter Tull Memorial Cup – Tull had reportedly agreed to sign for Rangers once the war ended. A memorial also stands outside Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium.

The epitaph, written by his biographer Phil Vasili, reads: “Through his actions WDJ Tull ridiculed the barriers of ignorance that tried to deny people of colour equality with their contemporaries. His life stands testament to a determination to confront those people and those obstacles that sought to diminish him and the world in which he lived. It reveals a man, though rendered breathless in his prime, whose strong heart still beats loudly.”

The campaign to posthumously award Tull the Military Cross is backed by Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South, Times journalist Rod Liddle, playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, and Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse whose new novel draws heavily on Tull’s story.

Tull also inspired players in the generations that followed and ex-Spurs striker Garth Crooks has backed the campaign after being left “speechless” by Tull’s story. Writing in The Guardian Crooks said, “We must ask the military establishment and our Prime Minister to hand Walter Tull the Military Cross for which he was originally recommended.”

  • You can sign the petition which calls on David Cameron to posthumously award Walter Tull the Military Cross here.

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Funding partners

  • The Football Association
  • Premier Leage Fans Fund

Partners

  • Gamble Aware
  • Co-operatives UK
  • FSE
  • Kick It Out
  • Level Playing Field
  • Living Wage Foundation
  • SD Europe