As Vlad flies over, through and around the battles of March 1918 he sees many people caught up in the conflict. To write this story I researched the real people in far more depth than is finally included in a 1000 word book. I wanted to share some of what I found out each day in the run up to Remembrance Day.
I remember Second Lieutenant Walter Tull
Walter Tull met sorrow and barriers in his life and repeatedly rose above them. Born in 1888, his father was a carpenter from Barbados and his mother was from Kent where the young family settled. They were not wealthy and as a black boy in the 19th century many opportunities would already appear to be out of reach for Walter. Then at the age of 7 life got even more difficult. His mother died from breast cancer and 2 years later his father also passed away leaving his young family with his new wife. She could not support them and Walter and his elder brother were sent to live in an orphanage in London.
Walter’s brother, Edward, was adopted by a Glaswegian couple who took him to live in Scotland. Walter was now totally alone. The next twelve years must have been hard for him but at the age of 21 Walter signed as a professional footballer for Tottenham Hotspur. It would be easy to assume life would now be easier, but the levels of racism he experienced meant the club limited his games and he eventually transferred to Northampton Town. In 1914 another disaster loomed. When World War One broke out many Pals regiments were formed and one of these was the Footballer’s Battalion. Walter was one of the first players to sign up and in the course of the next four years he served on the Ancre, the Somme, Messines, Ypres, the Menin Road Ridge and Bapaume. In this time his contribution was so highly thought of, that against all the rules, he was commissioned as an officer and finally led his men into action at Favreuil on 25th March 1918 where he died.
Walter had no family to support him, he suffered endless racism from football supporters and from the military authorities who did not allow officers who were not of “pure European descent”. Regardless of this he played professional football and had been signed to continue after the war with Glasgow Rangers. During the war he not only served as an officer, but his fellow officers wrote of his gallantry and calm bravery. When he fell in battle his men tried to retrieve his body rather than leave him in No-man’s-land.
My story is set on 25th March just as Walter prepares for his last battle. Almost his last action is to warn Vlad and Crisp VC of the danger behind them which consequently saves them. It seemed to me that this is the kind of thing a hero like Walter would have done.
There is a campaign to pursue a posthumous Military Cross for Walter after a letter from a fellow officer claimed he had been recommended for one. In the coming months I will be developing classroom resources around persuasive writing relating to this campaign, and through this I hope we can all continue to remember Walter Tull.
Vlad and the First World War