I was fortunate to visit not only one, but two memorials to a famous but little known black Briton. The one in Dover was in a cemetary in a church yard. It took me some time to find the cemetary let alone the memorial. I found it with the help of a black history writer.
The other memorial in Northampton was a large black, white and grey square structure on a hilltop.
So who am I talking about? Well, his name was Walter Daniel John Tull. He was born on 28 April, 1888. His father was from Barbados and his mother was from Folkestone. The baptismal records in Folkestone showed that Walter Tull was baptised at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Folkestone on 10 July, 1888.
There is a street in Northampton named after him. We saw the name of the street before we saw the solid stone memorial on the hilltop. We were really impressed!
It seemed that there are more prominent memorials to Walter Tull in Northampton than in Dover or Folkestone. I realised why, when reading about his life in Northampton, which also led me to read about the Tottenham Hotspurs FC and the Northampton Town FC during Walter Tull’s time with both clubs. More so for the Tottenham Hotspurs FC.
There is a great article on Walter Tull written by Matilda MacAttram titled, “Britons first black professional footballer and war hero denied Military Cross” on 25 September, 2008 on this website. He was Britain’s ‘first black professional footballer. He played inspirational, brilliant football first for Tottenham Hotspurs FC for one season from 1911 – 1912. Then he played for the Northampton Town FC, before he joined the Football Battalion, and was posted to France in 1915. That explained the two memorials to him – in Dover, to an outstanding war hero and in Northampton, to one who rose triumphantly over racism to achieve so much for Britain in his lifetime.
He was also a little known war hero. However, despite his outstanding bravery during WWI, he was unfairly denied a Military Cross. A whopping great travesty of justice!
More light is shed on Walter Tull in the article by Rob Bagchi on 28 March, 2010. I think Christianity was the pillar of his resilience. He was undefeated by the ugliness that accosted him in sport and war, because of his faith. I so admire this great man.
Lieutenant Walter Tull died on 25 March, 1918. He was a Professional Footballer – an illustrious son of Britain and Folkestone’s very own. I found another BBC video on the story of Walter Tull, brilliantly researched and presented. It brought tears to my eyes…
There are quite a few websites dedicated to his life. I found this account on the net which I reckon is a cool video account of the man his life, his brilliant sporting career and his illustrious war record.
I must admit I was stunned by the racism that followed him through his adult life – that was the tragic journey. To think the Walter Tull overcame this scourge of humanity to be a role model to young football enthusiasts, is an unforgettable testimony of the strength of this man’s character.
The best video clip has to be this BBC drama, Walter’s War by Kwame Kwei-Armah
…so that he is embedded in our memories, lest we forget.