“His huge courage and inspirational leadership forced those around him to overcome their prejudice.”
Walter Tull: why the black footballing pioneer was denied a Military Cross | Football | The Guardian – His story was featured on the BBC’s Antiques Road Trip on Wednesday, which detailed his remarkable life in the Northamptonshire town of Rushton before the war through a series of photographs and documents. Filming was completed in April but Phil Vasili, who wrote his biography Walter Tull, Officer, Footballer in 2009, has since uncovered new evidence that could suggest a reason for the army’s reluctance to recognise him.
Dated 19 February, 1918, a top-secret memo sent by Gen White – the head of recruitment in New York – to the War and Colonial Offices made it clear that any “wooly [sic] headed niggers” were not wanted for the forthcoming spring offensive that eventually led to the Allied victory later that year.
“We now refuse to post coloured men to ‘white units,’” the memo reads. “These ‘niggers’ must therefore go to native units if accepted. Can we take them for W Indies or other bns (battalions)?”
“A few weeks before Tull was killed in action the Army Council was still insisting black people should not be enlisted into British army regiments,” Vasili says. “It was a schizophrenic world, full of love, practical help and support and hate in the form of seemingly irrational prejudice. His full recognition will only occur when he is awarded his Military Cross and a full explanation is given as to why he was refused. There are politics behind the decision not to award him his medal and this further compounds the injustice.”
Walter Tull – Wikipedia – World War IDuring the First World War Tull served in both Footballers’ Battalions of the Middlesex Regiment, 17th and 23rd, and also in the 5th Battalion, rising to the rank of sergeant and fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. When Tull was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 30 May 1917 (still in the Middlesex Regiment), he became the first mixed-heritage infantry officer in a regular British Army regiment, despite the 1914 Manual of Military Law specifically excluding soldiers that were not ‘of pure European descent’ from becoming commissioned officers. (Nathaniel Wells, the son of a white plantation owner and a black slave, received a Yeomanry commission in 1818; George Bemand was commissioned in the Royal Field Artillery in 1915, although on his attestation form he categorises himself as being of ‘pure European descent’; and David Clemetson was commissioned in the territorial Pembroke Yeomanry in October 1915). Tull’s superior officers recommended him for a commission regardless. Tull fought on the Italian Front from November 1917 to early March 1918. He was cited for his “gallantry and coolness” by Major-General Sydney Lawford, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 41st Division, having led 26 men on a night raiding party, crossing the fast-flowing rapids of the River Piave into enemy territory and returning them unharmed, and in a letter of condolence to his family, 2nd-Lt Pickhard said that “he had been recommended for the Military Cross, and certainly earned it.” However, the MoD claim that there is no record of any such recommendation in his service files in the National Archives. He returned to northern France on 8 March 1918 and was killed in action on 25 March during the early stages of the German Army’s Spring Offensive, near the village of Favreuil in the Pas-de-Calais. His body was never recovered, despite the efforts of Private Billingham to return him while under fire.