Professional footballer and WWI hero, Walter Tull was a true trailblazer. Born in 1888, to a British mother and a Barbadian father, Tull was one of the UK's first black professional footballers, playing for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton. In 1917, he became one of the first known black officers in the British army. He was killed in 1918, at the age of 29, leading his men in the Second Battle of the Somme. He was recommended for a posthumous Military Cross but the honour was never bestowed.
Today, Walter Tull's name is becoming more well-known but it wasn't always that way. Back in 2010, Nick Marr, a digital marketing professional and a former policeman was so inspired by Walter Tull's story he started a website, WalterTull.org and a Facebook page to raise awareness about Tull's life.
Sky HISTORY spoke to Nick about Walter Tull and his campaign to award him a posthumous Military Cross.
Sky HISTORY: How did you first hear about Walter Tull?
Nick Marr: A friend mentioned him to me. I'm quite well-read so it was a shock that I didn't know some of the history. I was annoyed as well.
I'm a mixed-race person and I grew up in the 60s and times were tough. Things were bad at school, and you would get abused in the street. At that time, being mixed race there was a feeling of being a negative person. You're not worthy or good enough, you're not part of our history.
At school, it'd be brilliant for all of us to learn about Walter Tull. It felt like I'd been lied to. Not just me as a mixed-race person from Britain, but everyone had been lied to. There are these huge bits of history that have been excluded.
That was the initial shock I felt, and then it was a case of 'what can I do about it?'
What did you find so inspirational about Walter Tull?
The atmosphere back in those days must have been awful. He would have been up against a complete system that was against him and his cultural background.
So, for him to get over that would have been one thing. But I think he must have been exceptional. He pioneered in different areas, not only as an officer fighting for his country but as a footballer.
There are two bits to his life there that are very heroic and that's where the inspiration for it came from for me.
Despite facing discrimination throughout his life, he must have been very patriotic.
He volunteered to go into the army almost straightaway and he fought several battles. He was promoted as an officer which was not heard of at that time, given his race.
There's this sort of resilience that I like about his story. He's overcoming adversity consistently, as a soldier but also as a leader. He led people into battle and his men must have had a lot of respect for him. After he was killed, they risked their lives to try to retrieve his body from the battlefield under fire.
He was awarded different medals throughout his career. The ultimate one was the Military Cross. He was recommended for bravery, but it was never issued to him, which is the tragic part of the story.
Can you talk about the campaign?
I thought, come on, let's see if we can adjust history. He was never awarded a Military Cross because according to the manuals, people of colour were not allowed to be an officer or receive that medal.
So, the campaign was to redress those historical balances and at the same time, raise the profile of Walter Tull.
How did you get started with the campaign?
I started a Facebook page to campaign to posthumously award Walter Tull a Military Cross. That's still the aim. But along the way, the profile of Walter Tull has started to gather steam. I'm not saying it's down to me, but a lot of things have happened that were positive. We've had a commemorative five-pound coin, we've got statues in Northampton, the Royal Mail released a commemorative stamp and in Glasgow, he's appeared on a postbox. He's entered the English Football Hall of Fame and there's the Walter Tull football cup as well.
So, since that campaign started there has been this growing recognition of him, but the ultimate aim – for him to be awarded posthumously a Military Cross – has not happened. So that will still be my focus.
He was a war hero but also a professional footballer. Can you talk about his sporting career?
He was obviously a natural footballer. He played for Tottenham ten times and scored twice. He went to Uruguay and Argentina for Tottenham and played in Latin America which is amazing. His signing fee was £10 which at the time was probably a lot of money because I think the cap was around £4.
There is a notable time when Tottenham played Bristol City. The abuse Walter Tull got was so bad, the local press reported on the prejudice he suffered. This made the headlines more than the actual match.
Can you imagine? Black footballers still get abuse today, but he didn't have any support. He would have been the only black player. Yet he remains professional and continued his football career despite the atmosphere. It reminded me of when I was a police officer in Notting Hill. There are so many similarities. I'm sure many mixed-race people can identify with trying to get over these hurdles.
He played for Clapton at the beginning, then he went on to play Tottenham, then Northampton where he played over 110 games, and then he signed to Glasgow. That's where the First World War interrupted his career, but obviously, he must be a very respected player to play it at the topflight in those in those years.
You mentioned you were annoyed you had never heard about him growing up. What do you think of the way that Black History is taught in the UK?
I'm from a different era where there was nothing. You learn about Henry VIII and the Second World War, and it seems like black people were introduced to Britain in the 50s and before that, there was no Black History.
It's almost like we need a historian to sit down and go through the history and include stuff that was taken out. We need to make it part of our curriculum because it makes everyone feel part of Britain. If we can come out with some positive role models from history, I think it makes everybody respect each other. History that omits the contribution of non-white people needs to be redressed.
From my website, WalterTull.org, I get regular requests from teachers who are trying to get together some sort of teaching plans for different age groups who are trying to find resources. It's all a bit ad hoc, I run a website. It's not really for me to be doing this. So, what we need is someone to create some great teaching materials and make Black History part of the curriculum and include someone like Walter Tull.
I've got grandchildren, I would love them to be able to come back one day and say oh, we learned about Walter Tull. I think we'd have a more balanced historical view.
Are there any other black war heroes from WWI or WW2 that you think we should know about?
From WW2 actually. My Mum's from Trinidad and there was a guy called James Hyde. He was a World War Two Spitfire pilot. Just the fact that he flew Spitfires. Come on! There's this great picture of James Hyde with a little dog by the Spitfire.
People on my Facebook group always keep coming up with individuals. When I heard about James Hyde, I thought: 'Wow. He's come all the way from Trinidad, and he's also trained to fly Spitfires which must be complicated, joins the RAF and makes the ultimate sacrifice.' Another story, that's untold.
Sign Nick's petition to award Walter Tull a Military Cross here.