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Walter Tull, on the new UK £5 coin
July 5, 2014 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Walter Tull was the first ever Black officer in the British Army, and the first black officer to lead white men into battle. He was also only the second black player to compete in the top division of football, playing for the Tottenham Hotspur and Northhampton Town. An unassuming pioneer, his life has inspired a play, a documentary and a petition. As part of a series of coins on the centenary of the Great War, The Royal Mint has begun a programme of commemoration that will continue over the next five years, telling the emotive story of the journey from outbreak to armistice through a series of United Kingdom £5 coins, arranged in six-coin sets. Passed over for the Military Cross, allegedly due to the Army's institutional racism that banned "negros and other persons of colour" advancement to officer ranks, Walter Tull has his own coin at last.
posted by infini (14 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Passed over for the Military Cross, allegedly due to the Army's institutional racism that banned "negros and other persons of colour" advancement to officer ranks,
I was wondering about this because the MC until 1993 was only awarded to commissioned officer ranks , with the NCO/enlisted equivalent bring the Military Medal.


According to waltertull.com: "There were military laws forbidding 'any negro or person of colour' being commissioned as an officer, despite this, Walter was promoted to lieutenant in 1917." - which explains the MC reference then

I don't doubt Tull faced racial discrimination in the British armed forces and succeeded heroically despite that but also just to note that the MC was created in 1914 and its first batch of awardees included a Sikh Indian commissioned officer of British Indian armed forces
posted by Bwithh at 11:10 AM on July 5


I'm not usually much a fan of Prince Charles, but this, from the "Army's institutional racism" link, made me feel more charitable towards him (in regards to the unofficial ban on non-white soldiers in the Coldstream guards):

In the mid 1980s, Prince Charles made it clear he wanted to see black and Asian soldiers among those on duty and change began.

Both for noticing the absence and doing something about it.
posted by tavella at 11:45 AM on July 5 [3 favorites]


Bwithh, there's actually mention of what you say in the third link:

Telling the stories of these decorated black soldiers in Britain’s Great War army is not an attempt to do down Tull’s story. He was very impressive and brave; we should remember him and his sacrifice. But we should not assume that his lack of reward for his bravery was necessarily due to racism. Nor should we forget the other black soldiers who fought with great bravery in the same army.
posted by infini at 11:46 AM on July 5


1909? Spurs were actually pretty decent back then ;). Also, go to this page and set the year to 1909 (when Tull played for Spurs) and there is a pic - 5th from left, at the back, is that Tull?
posted by marienbad at 11:55 AM on July 5


I'm glad to see this happening, the war wasn't fought solely by Biggles and Ginger types and it's about time that this was more widely recognised.
posted by arcticseal at 2:47 PM on July 5


Did you know Britain's first black MP was in the 18th century? He used to be a boxer. Gambling was compulsory amongst the upper classes at the time to insane levels (part of why the famous clubs of that period flourished so) and sports were popular for gambling on; it's how rules for sport came to be written, someone wrote a book about it. In this disrespectable demi-monde, all social classes (male) mixed (you can imagine which women were able to mix, price: total social exclusion) and on fairly equal (very drunk) terms so maybe that's how the social mobility arrived.

I checked on wikipedia and it disagrees with me, but it may also be a period thing. I read it in the caption to a picture showing an engraving of his face in a history book about the 18th century. I remember it clearly, as i was very surprised, but not the book. I'm certain of the period (the boxing, the wigs - no mistaking it). Something like 1785, not early C18.
posted by maiamaia at 3:27 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


i think i'm wrong - here's one sad story and one not sad story about black boxers in C18 UK. NB about 3% of the population could vote and they were all related to each other, so to get your mate into parliament wouldn't have been odd
posted by maiamaia at 4:01 PM on July 5


Did you know Britain's first black MP was in the 18th century? He used to be a boxer.

And he didn't play for Tottenham, which is win-win.
posted by ersatz at 7:58 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Black S.African soldier reburied with white WWI comrades in France
posted by infini at 11:07 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Thanks infini for posting this. I've always been fascinated by the football side of Walter Tull's life, and also the fact that he likely indirectly benefitted from the influence Arthur Wharton (the very first black footballer in England) had on a young Herbert Chapman, who would later sign Tull at Northampton Town.

This post finally spurred me into writing that up. For anyone interested here it is (warning, obviously, self link)
posted by garius at 12:37 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Holy Moly, garius, that is some fantastic writing, and the pictures are gorgeous. Have memailed you.
posted by marienbad at 4:01 AM on July 7


Didn't garius do a far better job of digging up details of Walter Tull's life and times? I was envious of his research skills. Thank you so much for sharing this here.
posted by infini at 5:19 AM on July 7


Thanks, garius! That's a great deal more in depth.
posted by tavella at 11:07 AM on July 7


Glad people found it useful!
posted by garius at 11:23 AM on July 7


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