WW1 Centenary & Walter Tull

The First World War Centenary is almost upon us. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television are aptly awash with articles and programmes marking the occasion, and it was fascinating to read about Kent and the Great War in the KM's commemorative supplement a few weeks ago.

To honour this significant milestone in world history, an array of events and initiatives are taking place up and down the country. Whether that's a candlelit Vigil and a service of commemoration at Glasgow Cathedral, digitising 1.5 million pages of war diaries, or encouraging schools to research their local Great War heroes, it's important to fittingly commemorate the sacrifice made by so many.

As the Minister leading the Government's programme to mark the Centenary, I've been doing some research of my own. Walter Tull is a man some of you might not have heard of, but his story is significant and should be shared. Born in Kent in 1888, Tull was the son of Barbadian carpenter and Kent-born Alice Palmer. Tragically, both of Walter's parents died by the time he was ten and he grew up in an orphanage. What makes Walter remarkable is that despite the adversity he faced, he went on to play for Tottenham Hotspur - becoming the first black outfield player in England's top league. What's more, upon the outbreak of war he volunteered to fight for his country, eventually reaching the rank of Second Lieutenant despite a law excluding "Negroes" from becoming officers. And furthermore, he was recognised for "gallantry and coolness under fire" by his superiors in letters sent home after he was killed in France in 1918.

I would like to explore what more we can do to recognise sacrifices like Walter's. His memory serves to teach us lessons about prejudice, be it in sport or elsewhere, that sadly still exists today. His incredible life story is just one example of heroic sacrifice that we should all remember this Centenary year.


This column is published in The Kent Messenger each Friday where it may be subject to editiorial change.
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