Walter Tull was one of Britain’s first black professional footballers and the first black army officer. Walter, the grandson of a slave, had been sent to an orphanage as a child when his widowed stepmother couldn’t cope. After a spell as an apprentice printer, Walter took up professional football with Tottenham Hotspur. He later transfered to Northampton Town where he put in over 100 appearances.
On the outbreak of war Walter decided to enlist and joined the 17th (1st Football) (Service) Battalion Middlesex Regiment. He worked his way up to the rank of Sergeant and after recovering in Britain from illness he went to train as an officer. This was remarkable as at the time it was still forbidden, according to military regulations, for black people to become officers. Walter then joined the 23rd (2nd Football) (Service) Battalion Middlesex Regiment as a Second Lieutenant.
Walter was killed in France in March 1918. Reports tell how his men attempted to retrieve his body in the face of heavy fire. They were not successful and Walter is named on the Arras memorial.
In 1999 Northampton Town FC unveiled a memorial and garden of rest in honour of Walter and it stands as a testament to Walter’s ability to overcome prejudice and ignorance.
Walter’s example is the inspiration behind the club’s anti-racism initiative. Walter Tull Way can also be found in Northampton, a road named in his memory.
Walter is reported to be named on the memorial in River where two of Walter’s sisters later lived. Campaigners are currently hoping to erect a memorial to Walter Tull on the white cliffs of Dover.