Walter Tull Exhibition 2009

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Exhibition opening

"Who Did He Think He Was?" - Walter Tull's local family history (pdf)

for Walter Tull's local family history see here (pdf)
for opening hours and more information see here

The Walter Tull Exhibition was part of the year-long commemorations for 2nd Lt Tull, led by the City of Westminster Archives, in partnership with a number of organisations including the Dover War Memorial Project, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Walter Tull is famed for being the first black outfield professional football player and for being the first black combat officer in the British Army. He was born in 1888, and lost his life on the Somme in 1918, during the Great War..

From the 90th anniversary of the Armistice, the Exhibition was touring in Scotland and England; and at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 5th month - the anniversary-and-a-half of the Armistice - the Exhibition opened in Dover. Dover was the birthplace of Walter's mother, Alice Palmer, and home town of his close family. Relatives still live in Dover to this day. 

"On behalf of The Friends of The Dover War Memorial Project I should like bid you all a very warm welcome to Dover Discovery Centre this morning, as the Walter Tull Exhibition begins the final leg of its journey around the country." said Gordon Cowan (left), Councillor for Dover Town, Dover District, and Kent County Councils. 

Brian Dixon and Alan Taylor, Volunteers

"Walter was a remarkable man, one might even say a man ahead of his time; much of his achievement lies in overcoming long-established prejudices that were part of the way of life for his generation.  He was one of the first mixed-race footballers to sign professional terms,  and he became the first man of mixed race to be commissioned into the British Army as a Combat Duty Officer.  He served with the Middlesex Regiment, which has since become part of the Princess of Wales’s Regiment currently based in Canterbury and incorporating our local regiment, The Buffs, until he was killed in action in 1918."

Camilla Bergman, left, from the City of Westminster Archives joined us. "The Crossing the White Line exhibition that you see here today,  forms part of a broader project which engaged over 2,000 people from Westminster, Folkestone, Dover, Preston, Northampton and Glasgow, in a wide range of Walter Tull learning initiatives, aimed at engaging people of all ages and learning abilities. 

Mr Bernard Butcher, Chairman of Dover District Council

"We felt that as Walter Tull’s story was of such value to so many people it was important for us to deliver sessions nationally and to target people who came from areas that were significant to Walter Tull’s life, hence our contact with the Dover War Memorial Project and Marilyn Stephenson- Knight, who I must add, has been an amazing support and influence throughout the entire project. 

Camilla felt incredibly privileged to work on the project, and added "I could speak all day about the project and its outcomes but there is no need as we have also set up a website especially for this purpose! The website has become the heart of the project, pumping out Walter’s story to even more people. The website includes downloadable material resulting from the project including transcripts from the discussion sessions we ran with pensioners and ex service personnel in London and Dover and a KS2 education and activity pack.  We hope schools in Dover and across the country will use the website and the downloadable materials when teaching in the area of Conflict, Citizenship, World War One and Black History."

 "Walter Tull is commemorated on our Town Memorial, " said Maggie S-K, left. "We now know his story well. But what of the other eight hundred or so men named there? Or the four hundred people listed in the World War II Book of   Remembrance?

"The Dover War Memorial Project remembers them all with honour - not just as lists of names but as the unique people they once were. On Dover’s Virtual Memorial there are now over two thousand Dovorians remembered - and we’re still finding more.

"They are our fellow citizens - of the past. Just like us today, they walked the streets out there ….and some of them died there too. Older Dovorians will remember how Dover was bombarded. With alerts averaging two or three a day we were Hellfire Corner!

"Some of our families suffered terrible losses. On the Memorial are the Phipps and the Cookes:– they’re two sets of four brothers who fell. Or there’s Ivy Fussell – she lost her husband, two brothers, and a brother-in-law in the Great War– and then herself died when Dover was bombed in the Second. Now, someone who lost several relatives in the Great War is Mr Stephen George Coombe (right). He’s here with us today, Mr Coombe lost his grandfather in 1915,and he’s named after his uncles Stephen and George, who also fell. All three are commemorated on our Town Memorial ….. And so too is Mr Coombe’s cousin … 2nd Lieutenant Walter Daniel John Tull.

"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what this is all about. This very week there is a family in Dover mourning the loss in Afghanistan of a loved one, father and husband Corporal Kurmar Purja Pun. Whatever we might think of the politics and the morals of war, we must never forget the personal and family dimensions and heavy costs.

"Walter Tull’s stepmother, Clara, was broken-hearted when she had to send Walter and his brother Edward to the orphanage in London. The Tull family ended up scattered across the UK, from Glasgow to Dover. But the family always stayed in touch - and therefore together. Walter’s name is on the memorial at River too, where his family lived. It was Clara, his sisters Elsie and Miriam, and his stepfather William Beer, who placed Walter’s name on both memorials.

Walter Tull was one of our heroes - and a pioneer. From a dual-heritage family – his father from Barbados, his mother from Dover – he has become an icon of our modern age. But he was also a much-loved son and brother. Like all the others who Fell, his passing left a gap that nothing could ever fill."

The exhibition was opened by the Chairman of Kent County Council, Mr Peter Lake, left. "I’m very humbled by what I have seen already this morning and very privileged to be here in this position to open this extraordinary exhibition. Here is a chap who was the grandson of a slave from Barbados, born in 1888, who excelled at sport. Then the first world war came along, he enlisted, and he excelled in the military, enjoyed the support of all those around him, and  he gained his commission.  How sad it was that Walter Tull was  killed in this war because had he lived, he would have gone on to even greater things.

I am deeply honoured to be allowed to cut the tape and open the exhibition . I served as a private soldier before going on to Sandhurst to join the Somme company, I served as a private soldier alongside colleagues in the Middlesex regiment before all the regiments started to amalgamate. That was a great privilege for me, but it’s an even greater privilege to just cut this ribbon today and say thank you to the people of Dover. You have stolen the initiative and rightly so. You’ve done this on a number of occasions and I’m sure you’ll keep on doing it!

"What a lovely idea to get this together, put it on here in Dover, and to encourage the young to come and see it. I think it’s very important and you have torn down real barriers in doing that. I’m sure you’ll continue to do so. Let’s go and see the exhibition, all of us. Thank you."

After Mr Lake had cut the ribbon, Marie Kelly-Thomas from Dover Youth Theatre sang "He was such a Brave, Brave Man". With music by Russell Hepplewhite, it's one of the songs from the Walter Tull Production, created by over 370 schoolchildren across the country during the year-long commemorations.

"He was such a brave, brave man. He fought for the country he believed in. He's gone to a better place, with no more wars to fight. He will remain in history for ever."


Afterwards - Time for Tea ...

Maggie S-K with Derek Leach OBE, Chairman of River Parish Council

Stephen Coombe with Paul Everitt and his grandson, relatives of the Tull families

The Right Worshipful The Mayor of Dover, Cllr Diane Smallwood, with Maggie S-K

Brian and super-volunteer Joyce Banks, with  Carole Webb (wife of Dover Town Clerk, Mike Webb and Maggie S-K's sister-in-law) and  casualty relative Mrs Pauline Avery.

Folkestone Town Clerk Lawrence Avory and the then Mayor-Elect, Cllr Janet Andrews, with Captain Stephen Brown

Captain Clive Philimore with Kent County Councillors  Gordon Cowan and Bill Newman, Deputy Lieutenant of Kent.

In his honour - brought together by 2nd Lieutenant Walter Tull:  Stephen Coombe, Maggie S-K, Camilla Bergman, Paul Everitt, and grandson

Illustrations from the exhibition, above:
The mural, designed by Jonathan Boast, and painted by 32 young people from NCH Action for Children
Mobile exhibition in honour of Dovorians, from the Dover War Memorial Project
Details from four of the panels in the Walter Tull Exhibition
Further panels recording Walter Tull's local family history are here (pdf)

With grateful thanks to so many people, including especially:
Marie Bchara and Dover Library, Terry Nunn for the sound, Mike Mc Farnell for the filming, Cllr Roger Walkden, and..
Friends of the Dover War Memorial Project

All photographs - Simon John Chambers

Right - "When you go home..." cross-stitch kit sewn by Brian Rowland

Walter Tull Exhibition Opening

"Who Did He Think He Was?" - Walter Tull's local family history (pdf)

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