Tuesday 26 March 2024

Walter Tull (1888 – 1918) – professional footballer

With thanks to John Daniel for this information 

Born in Folkestone, Kent, UK, on 28th April 1888, Walter’s parents were Barbadian carpenter Daniel Tull and  his wife, Kent-born Alice Elizabeth, nee Palmer. His paternal grandfather was a slave in Barbados. His maternal English grandmother was from Kent. 

Walter began his education at North Board School, now Mundella Primary School, Folkestone.

In 1895, when Tull was seven, his mother died of cancer. A year later his father married Alice's cousin, Clara Palmer. She gave birth to a daughter Miriam, on 11th September 1897. Three months later, Daniel died from heart disease. The stepmother was unable to cope with five children so the resident minister of Folkestone's Grace Hill Wesleyan Chapel, recommended that the two boys of school age, Walter and Edward, should be sent to an orphanage. From the age of 9, Walter was brought up in the (Methodist) Children's Home and Orphanage (now known as Action for Children) in Bethnal Green, London. Edward was adopted by the Warnock family of Glasgow, becoming Edward Tull-Warnock; he qualified as a dentist, the first mixed-heritage person to practise that profession in the United Kingdom.

Walter’s professional football career began after he was spotted playing for top amateur club, Clapton. He had signed for Clapton in October 1908, reportedly never playing in a losing side. By the end of the season he had won winners' medals in the FA Amateur Cup, London County Amateur Cup and London Senior Cup. In March 1909 the Football Star called him "the catch of the season". At Clapton, he played alongside Clyde Purnell and Charlie Rance.

At the age of 21, Tull signed for Football League First Division team, Tottenham Hotspur, in the summer of 1909, after a close-season tour of Argentina and Uruguay, making him the first mixed-heritage professional footballer to play in Latin America. Walter made his debut for Tottenham in September 1909 at inside forward against Sunderland and his home Football League debut against FA Cup-holders, Manchester United, in front of over 30,000 people.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Walter became the first Northampton Town player to enlist in the British Army, in December of that year. He served in the two Football Battalions of the Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex) Regiment, the 17th and 23rd, and also in the 5th Battalion. Promoted to the rank of Lance Sergeant, Walter fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Walter was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 30th May 1917  becoming one of the first mixed-heritage infantry officers in a regular British Army Regiment.

With the 23rd Battalion, Walter fought on the Italian Front from 30 November 1917 to early March 1918. He was praised for his "gallantry and coolness" by Major-General Sydney Lawford, General Officer Commanding 41st Division, having led 26 men on a night-raiding party, crossing the fast-flowing rapids of the Piave River into enemy territory and returning them unharmed.

The 23rd Battalion returned to northern France on 8th March 1918 and Walter was killed in action near the village of Favreuil in the Pas-de-Calais on 25th March during the First Battle of Bapaume, the early stages of the German Army's Spring Offensive. His body was never recovered, despite the efforts of, among others, Private Tom Billingham, a former goalkeeper for Leicester Fosse to return him to the British position while under fire.

Walter Tull Way in Northampton,  leading to the Cobblers Football stadium is named in memory of Walter.