war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper



Walter Tull Walter Tull - a surprise

Walter Tull - Grace Hill Chapel

Walter Tull -  documents Walter Tull - family trees
"Who Did He Think He Was?" - Walter Tull's local family history (pdf) - created for Tull exhibitions, 2009-10

Walter Tull

by Marilyn Stephenson-Knight

Walter Tull, from the memorial plaque at Northampton, by Simon ChambersWalter Daniel John Tull was the son of Daniel Tull from Barbados. Descended from slaves, Walter became the first black combat officer in the British army. As also the first coloured outfield professional footballer he is claimed with pride as one of Folkestone's famous sons. But was he? Or was Walter Tull actually a Dovorian? 

Walter became a 2nd Lieutenant during the Great War. In March 1918, a month before his 30th birthday, he was killed during an advance on Favreuil, France. So well-liked was he in command that his men attempted under heavy fire to recover his body for burial. But it was impossible. Like 35,000 others who died in the region and have no known grave, Walter is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.  

He is named too on the war memorial at the top of the Road of Remembrance in Folkestone, where so many soldiers marched down the hill to embark for France. Walter's name was placed there by his old school teacher. Mr Murray had remembered his pupil for over twenty years, for by the time Walter was nine both his parents were dead, and he and one of his brothers, Edward, had been sent to an orphanage in London.  

But Walter is remembered in Dover as well. His name is on the Town War Memorial outside the Town Council Offices at Maison Dieu House. Why? And why does he also appear on the memorial at River? 

Using many sources I gradually found an answer. One of Walter's grandmothers was born in Folkestone. But she spent most of her life in Hougham, Dover, with her farm worker husband. He came from the village, and their daughter Alice road sign in Northampton, by Simon ChambersPalmer, Walter's mother, was born in March 1853 at Elms Farm. It's at the extreme end of Elms Vale Road in Dover, and is well known to us older residents as the "Conker Pond". We used to ride our bikes along the lanes up there - and by a strange twist of coincidence, it's the place where I spent many happy childhood years learning to milk cows, bring in the harvest, and collect eggs hidden in hay lofts.  

Perhaps Alice did the same before she joined her carpenter husband Daniel in Folkestone. But there she settled to motherhood, with several children. The last child born to the couple was Elsie. In 1895, when Elsie was three, Alice died and the family was left motherless. Just over a year later Daniel married again. His bride was Clara Palmer. Born at Farthingloe in 1870 she was another Dover girl. She was also Alice's niece.   

one face of the memorial at Northampton, by simon ChambersThe marriage was short. In December 1897 Clara was widowed. Left with her aunt's children and her own baby daughter Miriam* to care for, Clara was unable to manage. The family was split up. But the two youngest children, Miriam and Elsie, remained with her. When she married again in 1899, they settled with Clara and her new husband William Beer just outside Dover in Coldred.  

By 1912 the family had moved closer to Dover town, returning to William's birthplace. From their new home near Whitfield Hill Elsie, in 1920, and Miriam, in 1924, were married in the Parish Church in River. Walter was sent back to England in 1916 to convalesce from war trauma.  Disembarking at Folkestone he probably visited the family in Kearsney before returning fight on the Somme. He saw his sisters again in 1917, just before gaining his ground-breaking commission.  

This then is why Walter Tull, star for Tottenham Hotspurs and Northampton, officer of the Middlesex regiment, was commemorated in Dover. For despite his parents' death and family separation, Walter's new family in Dover remained in touch. Ever in their thoughts they ensured that in 1921 his name was inscribed on their Parish Memorial at River, and in 1924 on the Dover Town Memorial.  

plaque from the memorial at Northampton, by Simon ChambersWalter Tull's careers in football and in the army were illustrious. In recent years much has been made of his overseas heritage, for he succeeded when prejudice was strong. He overcame racism to become a great footballer, and he overturned regulations forbidding non-whites from becoming officers. But what seemed previously unknown is that Walter's heritage was also from Dover. His mother was Dovorian and his new family lived in Dover. The card on the wreath laid at the unveiling of the River memorial read "From Mum and Dad, Elsie and Miriam". Walter Tull is the embodiment of equality. His roots lie in Barbados - and in Dover.  

When we watched the recent World Cup, we saw many banners emblazoned "Football Against Racism". As a pioneer Walter Tull is an icon. In 1999, at Northampton football stadium, a memorial to him was unveiled. There's even a trophy named after him.  

Walter Tull broke the mould in the forces too.  Mentioned in dispatches for gallantry he disproved the prejudice that coloured people were unfit for command. Popular and brave, he was faithful to the end. Shoulder to shoulder with his fellows he gave his life for his country.  

Martin Luther King had a dream - but Walter Daniel John Tull dreamt it first. Dover can be proud.

This article (without these pictures) first appeared in the Dover Express, p10, 17th August 2006

* Miriam was named after her aunt, Clara's sister, Miriam Ellen Elizabeth Palmer, born 1880.

Walter Tull, from the Memorial Plaque at Northampton Football Stadium
Road sign outside Northampton Football Stadium
The Memorial at Northampton Football Stadium
The Memorial Plaque at Northampton Football Stadium


The Words on the Memorial Read: The Words on the Plaque Read:

Walter Daniel John Tull
born 28 April 1888
1909 - Tottenham Hotspur FC
1911 - Northampton Town FC
1914 - Enlisted into 17th Battalion, 1st Football
1917 - The first black Briton to be commissioned a combat officer
1918 - He was killed at the second Battle of the Somme
He was awarded the 1914-15 Star and British War and Victory medals

Walter Tull Memorial and Garden of Rest

This plaque was unveiled by
the Worshipful The Mayor, Councillor Arthur McCutcheon
on Sunday July 11th 1999
on behalf of the Sixfields Anti-Racism Forum
to commemorate the siting of the
Walter Tull Memorial
dedicated to the life of a hero
a symbol of hope against all forms of racism


Some Places Associated with Walter Tull

In 1911 Walter Tull (as "Walter Douglas Tull") is recorded as being a visitor at the home of Theresa Weston Cove, a widow. She and her family of sons Gerald and David, and daughters Winifred, Grace, and Dorothy, were living at 6 Kymberley Road, Harrow.  

house - the gap is where some houses have been pulled down

the house with the red-roofed bay window, second in from righti

26 Queen Street, Rushden

33 Albany Road, Northampton (address at enlistment)


North Board School, Folkestone (just around the corner from 51 Walton, below, right)

the white house in the centre - these houses are monkey-puzzle, ie the rooms interlock inside, hence the narrow frontage of number 12


16 Allendale Street, Folkestone (birth) (before at no 8)

51 Walton Street, Folkestone (where family lived)



This is Cheriton Street. In 1861 Alice Palmer, future mother of Walter Tull, and her brother Richard, were staying in this area with their grandmother, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was then aged 63, and was the wife of Richard Smissen, a Farm Bailiff. 


The area is much changed since that time; however there is a distinctive curve in the road that Alice would recognise today, and just possibly some of the houses might be familiar. 

Cheriton Cemetery, Folkestone

William Tull's headstone, by Simon Chambers

William Tull

William Stephen Palmer Tull, Walter's older brother, also lies in a war grave. He was a Sapper in the Royal Engineers, and died from tuberculosis on 12th March 1920, aged 37. He had been gassed during the war.

He left a widow, Gertrude Mary Tull, nee Boxer, from 59 Greenfield Road, Folkestone (right). He is buried at Cheriton, Folkestone

At the bottom of William's headstone are the words:

"Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away"

In the picture below can be seen the distinctive CWGC stone on William's grave. In the foreground, just a few graves away, is the grave of Frederick Charles Tull., whom we believe to be one of William's children.

The inscription on the headstone reads:

In Loving Memory
Frederick Charles Tull
died 19 December 1916
aged 16 years

We cannot, Lord, Thy purpose see
But all is well that's done by Thee



At the other end of the cemetery is the grave of Winifred Alice Tull. She was William's youngest daughter, and died on 19 March 1914, aged 1 year and 11 months. Her grave is unmarked, but it lies in the shadow of theBertha's grave Commonwealth War Graves Cross of Sacrifice.

Also in an unmarked grave (left) is little Bertha Susannah Tull. Born on 9 February 1881, she was just five weeks old when she died in March. She was the firstborn child of Daniel and Alice Tull; the minister who conducted the funeral service was the one who had married them just the year before. . 


Daniel and Alice Tull

Not far from William's grave is that of his parents, Daniel and Alice Tull. Their headstone reads:

Maggie at the Tulls' grave

Tulls' graveLoving memory
of Daniel Tull
who died Dec 11 1897
aged 41 years
His end was peace

also Alice Elizabeth
his wife
who died April 14 1895
aged 42 years

also of their son
2nd Lt Walter Daniel Tull
23rd Middlesex Regt
who fell in action March 25 1918
aged 29 years

all pictures Simon John Chambers

Copyright 2006-16 © Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved