Sunday, November 11, 2007

We Will remember them - Ebren

On the 25th of March 1918, just months from the end of World War One, a professional footballer was shot in the second assault on the Somme. His fellow soldiers risked death to get to him, his body was never found.

The story is far from unique, but the solider was. His name was Walter Tull.

Tull had it harder than most, an orphan from the age of nine, his stepmother could not manage all six of her husband's children. Walter and his older brother Edward were sent to an orphanage in Bethnal Green, London.

The Methodist teachings of the orphanage were strict, disciplined and arguably stood Walter in good stead for his later life in football and the army.

He started playing football early and soon excelled. Spotted playing for the orphanage team he was invited to join amateur site Clapton in 1908. He helped them win the FA Amateur Cup, the London Senior Cup and the London County Amateur Cup.

He was signed for Spurs in 1909, he toured Argentina and Uruguay with the team as an amateur, signing professional forms on his return to England.

But despite all the early promise, rave reviews against Manchester United and a goal against Bradford, seven games into his first season he was dropped. There was a problem - Walter Tull was black.

Playing at Bristol City he was racially abused with "language lower than Billingsgate [a notoriously coarse London fish market]" by "hooligans" in the crowd - the actions of fans and the press reports describing them eerily reminiscent of what was to follow on terraces across the land over 50 years later.

Tull was sold to Northampton Town and excelled, playing more than 100 games, scoring four goals in one match (he wasn't a striker) and looking set to sign for Rangers in 1914. Then the war came.

He signed up to fight for the British army as a volunteer immediately, effectively ending his football career (although he did make a guest appearance for Fulham in 1915).

Tull was the second professional black footballer in England and the first outfield player, goalscorer and to play in the top flight.

What he did in uniform was more impressive.

Quickly promoted to sergeant Tull survived the Somme in 1916, but was struck down by fever in December 1916. After recovery he did not return to the trenches immediately, instead he went to officer training school in Gailes, Scotland.

Walter Tull became the first ever black British army officer and the first man of colour to lead white troops in battle, at a time when it was illegal for him to take on either role.

He was mentioned in despatches for coolness under fire and recommended for the Military Cross after bringing his men back unharmed from a sortie.

An orphan whose grandfather was a slave and father was a joiner had broken down barriers to become a professional footballer and an officer. On his death, his commanding officer breached protocol one last time, writing this while informing his family of his death: "He was popular throughout the battalion. He was brave and conscientious. The battalion and company had lost a faithful officer, and personally I have lost a friend." British army officers didn't do emotion back then.

But after his death he was forgotten by the nation.

It was not until the mid-1990s that Walter's story re-emerged, when Phil Vasili saw his name mentioned in passing while researching a book on Britain's earliest black footballers in 1992. He published an article on Tull in 1996 that was read by Trevor McDonald. The newsreader gave a radio talk based on this research - one heard by Northampton Town fan Sean O'Donovan.

O'Donovan started campaigning, and soon everyone from Spurs (who dropped him) to Bristol City (whose fans abused him) were honouring Tull's role in the early days of the game.

Today, almost 90 years after his death, visitors to Northampton Town's Sixfields Stadium can see an odd memorial - one in a mosaic of black, white, and grey stone.

It reads: "Through his actions, WDJ Tull ridiculed the barriers of ignorance that tried to deny people of colour equality with their contemporaries.

"His life stands testament to a determination to confront those people and those obstacles that sought to diminish him and the world in which he lived.

"It reveals a man, though rendered breathless in his prime, whose strong heart still beats loudly."


file said...

great piece E, a worthy tribute

offsideintahiti said...

Thanks, Lord E. Very moving.

MotM said...

I didn't know any of this, so I'm grateful for a fine tribute.

tony said...

Yes, moving indeed. I love reading these stories which have disappeared from our history.
Glad to see you've taken up your keyboard again, Ebren.

Ebren said...

Cheers guys – I was watching the tributes on Sunday morning and there was a programme about Pal’s Battalions (generally people from the new middle classes) and the first people from outside of the upper classes to be recruited as officers. Walter’s name was mentioned so I went on a bit of a mission to find things out about him.

Often the non-landed-gentry officers faced huge problems and issues with their fellow officers and men and snide comments in obituaries and in official reports (one ran something like “we were trained to become officers and gentlemen and he certainly fulfilled the former”). This makes Walter’s tribute from a commanding officer even more impressive – but then I guess he was used to overcoming prejudice.

Zephirine said...

Great piece, Ebren, a fascinating story. And as usual, one thinks "What a waste.."

MotM said...

Two astonishing books:


and an excellent set of viewpoints of the conflict

MotM said...

Those three books in case the links aren't working:

All Quiet on the Western Front, Storm of Steel and Facing Armageddon.

bluedaddy said...

Good stuff Ebren.

BTW The first black professional footballer was Arthur Wharton who played in goal for Preston North End, then Rotherham and Sheffield Utd.

He had the look of Jermaine Pennant, but unfortunately he seemed to have Gazza's penchant for the bottle:

andrewm said...

Combining two of my greatest interests - football and the First World War.

Very interesting indeed, Ebren. We need your articles for the contrast in style, if nothing else. Offy and GG have a natural flair that I always love to read, and Mouth does the emotion of sport extremely well, but for my money you're the thinking man's favourite.

Mouth, All Quiet on the Western Front has to be one of the best books ever written.

Ebren said...

Cheers andrew.

Personally I like the not-forgotten Margin for the thinking/investigative stuff. I see myself more as the group's cameleon (moving between sports and styles trying to blend in - but fundementally still looking like a lizard with weird eyes).

That said I do seem to do a lot of the more historical pieces. Which is cool. I'm now off to find my glasses and fuss around my library in a cardigan and dusty tweed jacket with leather elbow patches...

chelseaexile said...

I attended the Remeberance Service yesterday at the local church. What struck me, as they read the roll, was the amount of times a list of the same surnames were read out.

Small and large families lost several sons in both world wars and in what was a small village until the 1970's, one can only imagine the impact.

marcela said...

to "ridicule the barriers of ignorance"... no mean feat.

lovely, ebren.

well done.

MotM said...

So much history - Kings and Queens; Inventors and Reformers; Revolutionaries and Leaders - seemed to me exceptional to the run of the mill kind of guy I was (and am). That kind of history feels more and more like The Lord of the Rings - a yarn that has things to say about our world, but from the outside.

The history of football (sport as a whole really) isn't like that. It's a history of people like me, some good at football, some good at massing in huge numbers in stadiums and all with the weaknesses and fears of (hate the phrase, but it's right here) ordinary people. And such were the masses who mustered to be thrown into the mincing machine on the Somme or at Passchendaele, so movingly captured here - The fatality rate of officers was horrendous - class mattered, but it was no shield.

I knew it anyway, but a trip to the Menin Gate some years ago showed that few were spared - and that was just one side.

Lest we forget indeed.

mimi said...

A fascinating and timely piece, Ebren, that not only echoes down the years, but across the terraces.

I will revisit this soon.

DoctorShoot said...

good stuff Ebren
rememberance day here last Sunday so timely...

the sledging of cricketer Andrew Symonds by Indian crowds doing monkey noises in the recent one day tour by Oz brought the bitter taste back to the surface...

anyhow while I ate my pancakes on Sunday and had a minute silence before hearing the australians win the test against the Sri Lankans, I too thought of those poor suffering footsoldiers feasting on their meal as bombs fell around them...

all quiet here on my little island at least...


byebyebadman said...

Very poignant stuff Ebren, and well penned indeed.

Don't know if those in England saw Not Forgotten, a moving documentary on WW1 presented by Ian Hislop, but there was a section on Walter Tull's story there.

I went on a trip to to the World War One battlefields when I was in secondary school. One of the monuments we saw, the memorial to the missing at Thiepval for those soldiers lost to the horrors of the Somme and with no known grave, was particularly solemn. There are over seventy-two thousand names on there - a similar number of people to the attendance at Old Trafford on Sunday - who are gone, vanished, erased from existence. A truly eerie place.

gg said...

Thanks, Ebren!

Not long ago, I stared at an Italian war memorial. There I read an unusual surname - four times; brothers, one mother's sons?

In the last few days we have been able to read of the tribal warfare
that is part and parcel of our beloved footy.


I found him in the guard-room at the Base.
From the blind darkness I had heard his crying
And blundered in. With puzzled, patient face
A sergeant watched him; it was no good trying
To stop it; for he howled and beat his chest.
And, all because his brother had gone west,
Raved at the bleeding war; his rampant grief
Moaned, shouted, sobbed, and choked, while he was kneeling
Half-naked on the floor.
In my belief
Such men have lost all patriotic feeling.

(Siegfried Sassoon)

mimi said...

byebye: thanks for the reminder of Hislop. For a man most known for cynical humour, he was incredibly moving when describing his emotions in the programme you describe.

I found it interesting that in today's Sport Guardian, Frank Keating chose to write about fallen sportsmen. His article is well worth searching out - I'm sure it's online. I've always rated and enjoyed Keating - on this occasion, I think Ebren's piece of greater value. But when recounting such stories there is no competition. It is of value to us all that people have the memories and share. We are the better for reading all such accounts.

MotM said...

Mimi - Keating's piece is online and it's v good, but Ebren's is better. The Hislop programme was superb, I agree.

marcela said...

thanks for the sassoon, gg. reminded me of 'dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori' - that old lie, eh...

byebye, your post reminded me of visiting the argentinian cemetery in the falklands. the nameless graves - "known unto god" - is quite the most chilling image i can think of.

"nobody hates war more than the soldier" a veteran told me once (in the terraces, of course).
call me an old hippy but all i can think of wishing us all is:


mimi said...

At various times of year, not only 11/11, I am drawn to think of the men (and there were some women too) who lost their lives in WW1. For me, it is on anniversaries of when my comtemporaries died. At the first of our funerals, the words of Lawrence Binyon were read. Still moves me to tears.
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them."

gg said...


it was hard choosing Sassoon, rather than other great poets of the "Great"
War (Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg
being particular favourites of mine) and hard choosing just one Sassoon poem.

"Dulce..." is fairly well-known. This one has a nice edge to it - not just mourning.

andrewm said...

GG, I've always preferred Sassoon of all the War Poets - there's so much anger in his work, and such a savage wit. I don't know why, but his seems the most appropriate response to me.

marcela said...

i'm no expert, but the poem you chose did seem rather perfect.

i only know dulce from 'o' level days... but it is a fantastic line.

andrew, why your fascination with WW!? only asking as someone who has never understood war. any war. genuinely interested.

mimi said...

andrewm: If you want anger in poetic work, go look at Stephen Spender. There are many pieces there - including war poetry.

Years later, when SS had taken his knighthood, there is a wonderful piece of broadcast history when Radio 4 had Sir Stephen introducing Alec Guiness reading TS Eliot. I have it on tape but have never found it on the internet. However, it is wonderful. Prufrock and The Wasteland, read by Guinness, introduced by Spender.

andrewm said...

marcela, it's not a morbid fascination I don't think. I have a fairly broad interest in history - did my degree in it, not that you needed to know that - but there's something about WW1 that really grips me. The poetry is part of it, and it obviously says far more than I ever could. Sassoon and Owen are particular literary heroes of mine. Something about the (comparative) innocence and pride with which the war began, and then the unimaginable horror ... I find it very moving and endlessly fascinating.

I'm very big on the Crusades as well, but we don't do memorial days for that as you may have noticed.

mimi, thanks for the tip - I know the name well but not the work. I'll put that right.

marcela said...

didn't think it was morbid.
i guess what you say about the innocence and pride; then reality. that's powerful.

didn't know you're a historian, of course. i know people who have particular interests in particular wars and as i never have had, i'm always keen to know what it is that grips and calls.

it could be something about the weapons used, troop deployments, strategic layouts... the politics surrounding even.

the poetry is a nice answer :)

mimi said...

And we dream

Zephirine said...

It's just the ghastly, and deliberate, waste of life in WWI that never ceases to shock - the 18 year-old 2nd lieutenants fresh from public school to the trenches with a life expectancy of 10 days; the Pals' Brigades which ensured that all the brothers and friends from the same village or workplace would be wiped out at the same time. And the huge con-trick which got them all there.

mimi said...

I had not thought there were so many ghosts. But then I read, and heard and he said "Marie, Marie, hold on tight".

You know only a heap of broken images.

This is true.

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

The heart of light, the silence

byebyebadman said...

World War One is statistically incomprehensible - for example France lost a man per minute for the first two and a half years of the war, and on just the first day of the Somme offensive Britain had 57,000 soldiers killed or wounded.

when I went to the Battlefields we visited one site with a Canadian memorial (the name escapes me I'm afraid) where many of their number had died. One story the tour guide told us was that when they first arrived some Canadian soldiers were so keen to get involved that they climbed over the top of their auxiliary trench to run overground to get to the front-line trench rather than use the network of covered tunnels. They were gunned down in their hundreds behind their own lines.

And yet in the midst of all this insanity in Christmas 1914 soldiers of both sides who had been firing bullets at each other hours before stopped fighting, sang carols together, shared cigarettes, buried their respective recent dead and even played football together.

offsideintahiti said...

Hi all,

delighted to see Pseuds' Corner come alive again.

While we're on the matter of writings related to WWI, I'd like to suggest Zeph's excellent short story, The River Road. Since we have quality poets and writers in our midst, we might as well indulge.

Love (& Peace) from stormy Moorea.

MotM said...

I never read the poets, although I did read the prose (as above).

There is great art from the horror too. I love the work of Nevinson - and Gertler's superb Merry-Go-Round - and Wyndham-Lewis -

I have the Imperial War Museum five minutes from work and the Tate not much further to look at these and many other works. They are so good at conveying the awful waste, but do not ignore the tremendous excitement too.

I'm inspired to drop in tomorrow - I can only take 30 minutes at a time without the anger taking over.

mimi said...

Hey Mouth: I used to live down the road from the Imperial War Museum. At that time they had this thing that if you were a local and pitched up about 4pm, you could get in for free.

Zephirine said...

And Sargent's Gassed - can't find a bigger pic of it, but for anyone who doesn't know it, the original is huge, and overwhelming.

MotM said...

Mimi - That's when I used to go in, but it's free all the time now - Blair's legacy!

Zeph - the Sargeant is awe-inspiring and reminds me of as I'm sure was the intention. Didn't learn much in 350 years (nor the 90 or so since).

mimi said...

Mouth - you mean I could go in with my IV30 post code and not have to pay? Cool. Does that cover all galleries in Londonium?

Ebren said...

I watched Paxman on Owen on Sunday (an odd day for presenters, Hislop on Pal's battalions and Paxman on Owen - but both were excellent).

I learned a lot - for instance, Sassoon was dumped into the same psychiatric hospital as Owen in an attempt to silence him (Sassoon that is, Owen was there for shell shock after being blown up, burried in mud and finding one of his best friends "around and about him, if you know what I mean" as he wrote to his sister).

All Sassoon did while being "silenced" was inspire Owen to greater heights - for example Sassoon is responsible for "Anthem for doomed youth" - Owen had titled it "anthem for dead youth" - which is far less powerful.

The saddest thing I learned was that Owen's mother was informed of her son's death on Armistice day - as the bells of peace rang out and the rest of the population celebrated.


And here are a couple of my favourites:

"Good-morning; good-morning!" the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
"He's a cheery old card," grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Sassoon - the Genreral.

And one of Owen's with Sassoon's hands all over it:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- Only the monstruous [SS inclusion] anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Anthem for doomed youth.

Ebren said...

mimi - all the public galleries are now free.

It was an attempt to bring culture to the masses (very old labour)

However, the public aren't interested. Attendances are up, but all that is happening is that the people who went anyway are going more often.

Personally I think it's great - but then I guess I'm not the person they wanted to encourage.

mimi said...

Ebren: I guess none of us are the target audience that free entrance to art galleries was supposed to entrance - and I mean en-trance not entrance. Difficult to emphasise in writing.

Now I know I've posted this link before, but I don't think on this thread, and anyway, it really does bear revisiting. If anyone can listen to this and not be moved, well, I simply don't know what to say.

file said...

just 2 more artists to add to those already mentioned in this fascinating thread

Otto Dix was a German artist who would sit and draw in the trenches as the war continued around him, he got the iron cross for his soldiering and was at the Battle of the Somme, he wanted to shock people (as he had been) by showing the stark reality of this terrible war and it's brutalisation of people (himself included)

Dance of Death
Self-portrait as a Soldier

Kathe Kollwitz was a German whose son Peter died in those trenches

Marcela's veteran might be right that "nobody hates war more than the soldier" but as GG points out the mothers of those soldiers suffer terribly too

Kollwitz Mother and Son

and Grieving Parents in the graveyard where her son is buried

after she visits her son's grave, she says but I can't find the quote, she goes to her own statue of herself and weeps, then she places her hands on her own face(on the statue)

gg said...

The old favourites - we share them.

Strange, talking of "favourites" with regard to such songs of rage and sorrow. Yet we need these favourites if we are ever to learn; our children need them.

"...bugles calling for them from sad shires" always hits me in the bread-basket.

gg said...


another favourite: Kathe Kollwitz.

file said...


Sargents work is like the photo's which were banned

artists like Nevinson and Wydham-Lewis (Severini and Boccioni) were sold on cubism (futurism and vorticism) which seems more about the mechanization of war

even Dix to start with though he ended up a rabid expressionist

but Kollwitz, to me, cuts through all that crap and tells it like it is from her heart, without any artifice or pride

her Grieving Parents look over 1000's of parents sons, they could be Universal in their grief, united in their belief as Kathe says

'There has been enough of dying! Let not another man fall'

to me the men don't get it, her art makes me cry

Zephirine said...

OK, here's what I think is the best grieving music ever : in a beautiful performance. Try listening to this while looking at those Grieving Parent sculptures.

Zephirine said...

Erm, but perhaps not if you have to go into a meeting straightaway afterwards...

mimi said...

Zeph: wonderful. But I would suggest not listening to this if you have to do anything vaguely sensible for a while. It is staggeringly moving. Thank you.

offsideintahiti said...

Want grieving music? I'll give you grieving music:

Zephirine said...

Beautiful, Offie.

gg said...

And when they ask us
How dangerous it was,
We'll never tell them,
We'll never tell them.
We spent our pay in some café,
Fought with French women night and day -
It was the cushiest job we ever had.

And when they ask us - and they're certainly going to ask us -
the reason why we never won
the Croix de Guerre,
We'll never tell them,
We'll never tell them.

There was a front -
but damned if we knew where.


mimi said...

Offie: sort of thanks for that. The only peice I can think of that would give more tears is Schubert's Adagio from the string quartet in C major that was used in the BBC film drama Conspiracy. Can't find a youtube of it, but it is glorious music.

All these things here just leave me in floods.

Tweet it, digg it