Menu

The Thin Blue Line

header photo

Walter Daniel John Tull

Walter Daniel John Tull was born in Folkestone on 28 April 1888 the son of Alice Palmer and Daniel Tull.  Although Alice was a local girl Daniel was a descendant of slaves and had arrived in England from Barbados in 1876.

The 1891 census shows the family living at 51 Walton Road, Folkestone and consisting of :
Daniel Tull   Head married 35 Carpenter & joiner Barbados West Indies
Alice Tull      Wife married 38 Hougham, Kent
William Tull Son                   9 Folkestone, Kent
Lelillia Tull   Daughter          7 Folkestone, Kent
Edward Tull  Son                  4 Folkestone, Kent
Walter Tull   Son                   2 Folkestone, Kent

When Walter was seven, his mother died and Walter's father remarried but died two years later. His stepmother was unable to cope with all six children of her husband's previous marriage and Walter and his brother Edward were sent to a Methodist orphanage in Bethnal Green, London.

His brother left the orphanage two years later and was adopted by a Scottish family and eventually became a dentist. Meanwhile, Walter continuing his studies played for the orphanage football team. When he left there he took up an apprenticeship as a printer.


He continued his football playing with the amateur side Clapton in the 1908-09 season. A talented inside-forward, he helped them enjoy a successful season. They won the Amateur Cup, the London Senior Cup and the London County Amateur Cup.

At the end of that season he was signed byTottenham Hotspur as a professional and att the age of 20, he made his first-team debut, the second black man to play professional soccer in Britain (the first being goal keeper Arthur Wharton for Preston North End).

Unfortunately Walter experienced spectator racism when the club travelled to play Bristol City. 'Let me tell those Bristol hooligans', said one corrrespondent, 'that Tull is so clean in mind and method as to be a model for all white men who play football whether they be amateur or professional. In point of ability, if not actual achievement, Tull was the best forward on the field'.

In October 1911 Tull moved to Northampton Town where he played half-back and scored nine goals in 110 senior appearances.

In 1914, he signed forms for Rangers and would have been the Glasgow teams first black player.

He never made the move as war broke out and Walter enlisted in the 17th (1st Football) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.

The Army soon recognised Walter's leadership qualities in July 1916, he took part in the Battle of the Somme as a Sergeant. In December 1916 he developed trench fever and was sent home to England to recover.

His superiors heard constant reports of the man's courage, popularity and leadership skills and they took a remarkable decision - to recommend Walter for a commission, ignoring the Army regulations that forbade 'any negro or person of colour' holding officer rank. When he recovered from his illness, instead of being sent back to France, he went to the officer training school at Gailes in Scotland. Walter was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in May 1917.

Sent to the Italian front he led his men at the Battle of Piave, and was commended for his 'gallantry and coolness'. He was posted back to France and on 25 March 1918, he was felled by machine gun fire. His men gallantly tried to reach him but could not. His body was never found. Tull's commanding officer wrote to brother Edward in Glasgow, reporting that 'He was popular throughout the battalion. He was brave and conscientious. The battalion and company have lost a faithful office, and I have lost a friend.' Walter is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

He is named too on the war memorial at the top of the Road of Remembrance in Folkestone, where so many soldiers marched down the hill to embark for France. 

His name is also on the Dover War Memorial outside the Town Council Offices at Maison Dieu House.

 

In 1999 a memorial to him was unveiled at Northampton Football Club.

'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. This memorial marks an area of reflective space as a Garden of Remembrance.'