Second Lieutenant Walter Tull was the first black British Army officer. Tull was born in Folkestone, Kent, in April 1888, he was the son of a carpenter from Barbados who moved to England and married a local woman.
By the age of 10, his parents had died and left him to be raised in an orphanage in Bethnal Green, East London. His mother died of cancer and his father remarried. However, his father died shortly after his marriage and Tull’s stepmother was unable to care for the house full of children.
Walter Tull was only the second black man to play professional football in Britain. The first was Arthur Wharton, who signed for Preston North End in 1886. At the time Wharton held the world record for the 100 yards and was was the first black athlete to win an AAA championship. Tull played professional football for Tottenham Hotspur – making him the first black outfield player in England’s top division – and Northampton Town. At the onset of the war in 1914, Tull volunteered for the Football Battalion, part of the 17th Middlesex Regiment.
He was commissioned as an officer in May 1917 and sent to Italy where he led his men and was mentioned In dispatches for bravery at the Battle of Piave. Second Lt Tull was transferred to France to take part in a push to break through the German lines at Favreuil, in the Somme Valley. In March 1918, at the age of 29, he was killed. His men tried to retrieve his body from No Man’s Land but they were beaten back by heavy enemy machine gun fire.