Northampton Town player and first Black officer in WWI remembered on Songs of Praise

Black and white picture of a black man
Black and white picture of a black man
Hero Walter Tull, who also appeared for Tottenham Hotspur, was sadly killed in March 1918

Northampton Town player and the first black officer in World War One has been commemorated on Songs of Praise.

Heroic inspiration Walter Tull, who also appeared for Tottenham Hotspur, was sadly killed in March 1918 while fighting in Northern France.

As part of Black History Month, his story was told on the BBC One staple programme when presenter Sean Fletcher visited Northampton.

Tull was born in April 1888 in Folkestone, Kent, and his father hailed from Barbados while his mother was English.

At the age of just nine, his parents sadly died and with his brother, he moved to Bethnal Green in London to be raised in an orphanage.

From 1908 he played professional football for Clapton, Tottenham Hotspur and then Northampton Town.

According to the National Archives, he was only the second person of mixed-race heritage to play in the top division of the Football League.

Writer and poet – along with being a Northampton resident – Nairobi Thompson spoke on the show about Tull.

She said: “He played football to the highest level, becoming proficient at it. He played for Clapton, played for Tottenham Hotspur and 111 first-team games for Northampton.

“He was born at a time where he faced policy and legislation that restricted his movement and his capacity to achieve.

“Yet he still managed to achieve, despite that.”

Terry Angus, a central defender who made 116 appearances for Northampton Town in the 1990s, also appeared on the episode.

He said: “When I found out I was like ‘really?’ against all the odds, he played football. Talk about resilience.

“Without him, I am not so sure it would have been such an easy transition for me. Walter Tull has paved the way for people to go ‘I can do that’.

“He must have got so much comfort from the church because the environment the church gave him would have been a safe environment.

“As black people, we want a safe environment and that’s what religion does. He must have felt so safe.”

If that was not remarkable in itself, Tull then went on to achieve greatness as a part of the British Army during WWI.

Army rules at the time said only those of “pure European heritage” could go on to be “leaders of men”.

The National Archives said: “In 1917, Tull is widely considered the first African-Caribbean mixed heritage man to be commissioned as an infantry officer in the British Army.”

In March 1918, at the tender age of just 29, Tull was killed on the battlefield in France.

Miss Thompson added: “Defying those stereotypes and doing something really quite incredible. He paid the ultimate price. He died fighting for his country.

“He fought the good fight, we can see that he kept the faith. We can see that he put others before himself. He is a wonderful inspiration.”

That segment of the show closed out with a performance of the hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country performed at All Saints Church in Northampton.