Blog Archive

Monday 4 March 2013



Introduction by Zita Holbourne, Co-Chair BARAC UK
BARAC & OBV have launched a new campaign calling on David Cameron, Prime Minister to award the Military Cross to Walter Tull. In the face of horrific racism, Tull rose above it and achieved. Tull was the first black army officer and the first black professional footballer in Britain. Tull was and still is an inspiration and contributed greatly to British society, but because of racism was never honoured as he should have been. Please read the article below written by Lee Jasper, Co-Chair of BARAC UK and support the campaign by signing the petition (see link at the bottom of the article).

 A Medal for Walter Tull,  by Lee Jasper, Co-Chair BARAC UK

In the formal narrative of the history of Britain, that venerated canon of academia, that shapes our lives providing meaning and a sense of who we are as a nation, hardly ever, are the contributions of Black peoples recognised or acknowledged. The same is true for the working classes, seldom are our achievement's part of the great story of British history.

It’s as if our contribution, and by implication our very existence, remains a profound embarrassment to the nation. Our somewhat ambivalent and skeptical feelings towards the concept of the much trumpeted notion of “One Nation”, a vision of an inclusive British citizenship, is brutally undermined by the refusal to acknowledge our many and varied contributions to this country.

Too often Black people’s historic contributions in the making of modern Britain are junked in acts, which can only be described as politically motivated, historical revisionism.
You will find only the most scant references to us in the national curriculum. You will not find us represented in the majority of history seminars, books and events that litter this country’s cultural and academic calendar.

The Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano campaign remind us that in general British Black people have been airbrushed and erased from British history. Whether that is the history in the trade union movement or the story of the empire, we are reduced to token mentions rendering us almost invisible.
That’s why for some it’s difficult to take any pride in being British, the whiff of hypocrisy is deep rooted and offensive. Sadly, over time, I have come to the conclusion, that, whilst we are all theoretically equal in the fraudulent notion that is the concept of an inclusive meritocracy British citizenship, in reality, we are still treated as very different.

Let’s consider the Government response to British history. One relates to working-class soldiers in World War Two. The other to a working-class black hero, who fought in the First World War.

I think we’d all agree it was welcome news, this week when it was finally announced that those soldiers who helped defeat the scourge of fascism serving in the freezing tundra’s of the Arctic during WW2, will posthumously receive a newly designed military medal, in honour of a most arduous and dangerous mission. They ensured that vitally important Arctic supply lines remained open, providing the magnificent Soviet Red Army with critical supplies.


When the PM David Cameron made this announcement at the end of last year, Commander Eddie Grenfell, an Arctic Convoy veteran responded by saying that he was ‘pleased but not delighted". He accused Mr. Cameron of taking too long to recognise the heroic actions of the Arctic Convoy.
He is, of course absolutely right and whilst these brave soldiers, and their families have had to wait 68 years to finally get the recognition they deserve.

Now consider the case of Walter Tull, Britain’s first commissioned black Army officer. Walter was born in 1888. His father died whilst he was quite young. His grandmother was an enslaved African from Barbados. Walter’s stepmother unable to cope with six children placed Walter and his brother in an Orphanage in Bethnal Green, London.
His passion was football and such was his prestigious talent that he was spotted by a scout in 1908 who immediately signed him for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Walter became the first Black outfield player to play in a professional British team. He suffered racist abuse of the worst possible kind imaginable but Walter was of African descent and made of sterner stuff.

After a match against Bristol City, one press reporter recorded the incident. He wrote of the City fans:

Becoming the first Black footballer in Britain would be achievement enough for some, but Walter was to go on to break yet more barriers.

He left his first love football to serve King and country in the First World War. Unbelievably, given the period, such was Walter’s dedication and professionalism he was promoted no less than three times and rose to the rank of Lance Sergeant.

Sent home in 1915 with shell shock, he, nevertheless, returned to France in 1916 distinguishing himself at the Battle of the Somme and on his return to England, his superior officers recommended that Walter be made an Officer.

Back then Black people were barred from becoming a British Army Officer and there were specific military laws that prohibited their promotion to Officer class. Despite this, after his superiors demanded his promotion, he was made a Lieutenant in 1917. He became the first Black man to be made an officer in the British Army and the first to lead white British troops into battle.

Achievement enough some might say, but Walter Tull was a phenomenal human being of outstanding character, professionalism and bravery.
He was sent across the Italian front and was mentioned in dispatches for his ‘gallantry and coolness under fire’ by his commanding officer. He was recommended for one of Britain’s highest military honour’s, the Military Cross, but because Walter was black, much to the eternal shame of Britain Walter never received his medal.


Retuning to the Somme in 1918 Walter Tull, this immense shining example of fortitude, tenacity and courage, went above and beyond the call of duty and was killed, machine gunned as he was helping his men retreat to safety.
His men desperately tried to recover his body such was their admiration for him. Unfortunately they were beaten back and Walter’s body now lies in a foreign field, just one of the many thousands of British soldiers whose bodies lie in unmarked graves.

He died on the Western Front in France on March the 25th 1918.
There has been a quite campaign seeking to convince the British Government to posthumously award the family of Walter Tull his medal of honour and erect a statue in London in his honour. Though many promises have been made, as of today no such recognition has been forthcoming.

That’s why Operation Black Vote and BARAC are urging David Cameron through this petition to acknowledge the feats of Walter Tull and afford him the posthumous medal he so richly deserves. I ask that you join us in seeking some degree of recognition and justice, for Walter Tull and his descendants.
Mr David Cameron, do the right thing and posthumously award Walter Tull his Military Cross.


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