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From football to Favreuil- The achievement and tragedy of Walter Tull 1888-1918

Updated on October 25, 2014
During World War 1- Many Pro Footballers conscripted into Football Battalions
During World War 1- Many Pro Footballers conscripted into Football Battalions
Walter Tull Pro-Footballer & enlisted to become 2nd Lieutenant during WW1
Walter Tull Pro-Footballer & enlisted to become 2nd Lieutenant during WW1 | Source

Walter Tull 1888-1918

The photo of Walter Tull is a welcome glimpse of inspiration.

He looks collected, calm but capable.

Walter Tull alongside others like Arthur Wharton inspired the beginnings of racial equality at professional sports level.

Walter Tull was also a catalyst for change in Military Institutions.

He alongside a few have lit the path for generations to follow.

Through his great skills both at communictaions, Sport and Leadership.

Walter Tull's life is as full as it is brief, to the point and not a minute wasted.

This was at time in social history where there was much prejudice and pressure upon people to be rigid and obedient to there place in the class ladder.

Many remained trapped in poverty and unhappy circumstance.

There was no welfare system as yet.

The welfare system in England would arise from the aftermath of WW1.

This worldwide conflict would also challenge the class system.

Walter Tull must have been a very tenacious soul to become successful at this time.

His professional achievements made Society sit up and take notice.

Walter Tull

Walter Tull was born in 1888. His Father, the son of a slave, came to Britain from Barbados in 1876. His father worked at carpentry, His mother came from Folkstone UK.

Walter Tull's parents had six children together. The family was close knit and religious.

Attending and living within the beliefs of the Methodist Church.

During 1894 Walter Tull's mother died. Although the father married again, he sadly died in 1896. Their step-mother could not cope with supporting all of the children.

Walter and his brother Edward were put into a Methodist run Orphange. This was at Bethnal Green, London. During this time they developed an enduring bond. Edward was adopted from the orphange and later became a dentist.

Walter stayed on at the Orphange until he left school . In 1908 he began learning a trade which was as a printer.

But Walter had discovered a passion as well, he had began to play for a local Football team in Clapton.

It soon became apparent to his coaches-That he was not just good- he had much potential and natural talent.

A Scout from Tottenham Hotspur signed him up to their team.

Walter was paid 10 sterling ponds as a signing on fee-This was the maximum signing deal of the time. He was also paid 4 ponds a week.

Along with his contemporary Arthur Wharton.

Walter Tull had become one of Britain's first Professional black Football Players.

He played with Tottenham Hotspurs, he played well, but racist incidents occoured at matches. The Managers had to let him go. Walter Tull was transferred for a large fee to Northampton Town.

Walter Tull played 110 games and scored nine goals throughout his football career.

He played as inside forward and was a very popular player.

Exciting deals were being offered to Walter Tull and Northampton by different Football Clubs.

During 1914 Glasgow Rangers begun negotiations with Northampton.

These talks, plans and hopes abruptly ended. .

This was because Britain declared war with Germany for the invasion of Belguim.

During 1914.

The passionate patriotic Walter Tull had signed up for the Army.

Walter Tully had joined the 17th Service Football Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.

He would never play another professional football league game.

Some say Walter Tull abandoned his football career for the Army.

But he strikes me as someone who would do something for the greater good he believed in.

Walter Tull was a team player.

In the Army this was quickly recognised and encouraged.

A man who could inspire others to follow him as a leader, was a much valued and necessary attribute, Walter Tull was soon noted as having an abundance of natural leadership skills.

By November 1915 He had been promoted to Sergeant.

On the 1st of July- November 1916 Sergeant Walter Tully took part in the Somme offensive.

The battle was preceded by a week long artillery bombardment of the German trenches,

which was meant to destroy the barbed wire defences. It was generally believed that the Allied forces would be able to walk over No mans Land and simply take the German trenches.

The constant bombing only created deep craters that filled with water. No Mans Land became a deadly mess of crater and mud.

The British suffered 57,000 casualties that day. During the next five months the Allies would advance no more than thirteen miles.

"From the darkness on all sides came the groans and wails of wounded men, faint long, sobbing moans of agony and despairing shrieks.

It was to horribly obvious that dozens of men, must have crawled for safety into new shell-holes and now the water was rising about them and powerless to move, they were drowning" Capt Vaughan diary extract

By the end of November 1916 the death toll had risen to 420,000 British Soldiers, 2,000 of theses were officers. 200,000 French Soldiers and 500,000 German Soldiers.

By December 1916 Walter Tull developed Trench fever, caused by wet and extreme cold.

The living conditions tolerated in the trench warfare caused Trench fever.

He was sent home to recover in England. His survival and leadership skills had been stretched to capacity at Battle of the Somme.

The outcome was noticed and Walter Tull was sent to the Officer training School in Scotland.

Walter Tull

In 1917 Walter Tull made Military history by being promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.

Impressive enough at that time to become an Officer from an impoverished background.

But also changing the Military Law Book. That had denied Non-white men to be Officers.

On March 25th 1918 Lieutenant Walter Tull was killed during an attack on German trenches at Favureil in the Pas-de-Culais.

His body was never recovered.

Despite the efforts of Private Billingham who tried to carry him back whilst under fire.

The Football Battalion 1914

At the outbreak of World War 1 the Prime Minister David Lloyd George called for the men of Britain to conscript.

"The stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elavation where we can see the great everlasting things which matter for a Nation-the great peaks wh had forgotton, of honour, duty, Patriotism and clad in glittering white, the great pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to heaven"

Strong speeches from politicians and general public opinion, encouraged the zeal for men to begin creating their own Battalions. These became known as the Pal Battalions. The most famous of these being the Grimsby Chums.

For example In 1915 men from the London Stock Exchange formed the Stock exchange Battalion of Royal Fusiliers.

At the start of the war much effort from Football Associations was demonstrated to keep their football players from conscription. They argued that Football was an important game to keep the public spirits up.

But there was much pressure for players to conscript. George V was advised by certain key figures, to perhaps resign from being the Football Association Patron.

Author Arthur Conan Doyle made a direct appeal for Footballers to volunteer for service. Players themselves wanted to conscript.

In some countries competitions were suspended.

The 1st Football Battalion of the 17th was formed in the December of 1914 at Fulham Town Hall London.

The first to sign up was Frank Buckley who led the Regiment.

The Football Battalion was not just made up of Football players, referees, officials and also football fans joined.

Because of this some Football players joined other Battalions. This made it hard for the War office to track players.

The Football Battalion was an enduring Battalion and suffered heavy losses during these battles

  • The Battle of Deville Woods
  • Battle of Guillemot
  • Battle of Arras 1917

Frank Buckley estimated of the original 600 men who had conscripted with him, only 100 survived.

In 1914, there were 5,000 professional Football players in Great Britain, 2,000 of those conscripted alongside referees, fans and Officials.

Between 1915-1919 Competitive Football was suspended in the UK.

Many footballers alongside Walter Tull died and teams became depleted.

The Football League and the FA Cup were suspended.

Only Regional league Competitions were played.

In 2010 a Memorial to the men of the Football Battalion of World War 1 was unveiled.

It is at Longueval France.

Walter Tull

In Northampton Football Club there is a garden of rest and Memorial dedicated to Walter Tull.

He is also remembered at Arras Memorial Bay 7- For those with no known grave.

  • Sources of information
  • Max Arthur-Faces of WW1
  • H.P Wilmott- World War 1
  • Wikipedia Football Battalion Walter Tully


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