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Artwork on display at Sixfields to remember Water Tull

22 March 2022

A brand new work of art is now proudly on display here in the main reception area at Sixfields.

Produced by artist Jonathan D. Boast, The Walter Tull Medal Mural depicts four different images of Tull at different stages of his life.

The portrait of Walter depicted is drawn from a family photograph outside their home in Folkestone, Kent. Probably taken just after his mother died and when he was just 7 years old. Two years later his father died and he found himself living with one of his brothers at a Bethnal Green orphanage in the East End. It was in London for the Bonner Road orphanage that Walter began to play football and demonstrate his skill, leadership and athleticism. The Red, White and Blue background comes from the ribbon of The 1914/15 Star, a medal that was awarded to all who served in any theatre of war against Germany between 5th August 1914 and 31st December 1915.

This panel shows Tull in the striped 1908/9 football kit of Clapton FC, the amateur team with whom Walter began his senior footballing career. Walter was a key part of the squad that won both the FA Amateur Cup and London Senior Cup that season and was soon signed up as a professional by Tottenham Hotspur. He was much praised in the press for his skill, intelligence and commitment on the pitch and seemed to be heading for a regular first team place, but racial abuse from rival fans was regular and following horrific taunts during a match against Bristol City, Spurs dropped him and he only appeared very occasionally in subsequent fixtures. In 1911 the great Herbert Chapman signed Tull for Northampton Town where he made 111 appearances for the first team. It was with the Cobblers that Tull was given the chance to truly perform, and he has been an icon of the club’s rich history ever since. The medal ribbon in the background is that of The British War Medal, awarded to officers and men of the British and Imperial Forces who entered service overseas between August 1914 and November 1918.

Walter Tull’s military career began in 1914 when he was the first Northampton Town player to sign up after WW1 broke out. He served in the ’Football Battalions’, the 17th and 23rd Middlesex Regiment, and in the 5th Battalion. He saw action in the trenches at Loos, and amongst other engagements, fought in the 1916 Battle of the Somme and was promoted to Sergeant. In May 1917 Tull was commissioned to Second Lieutenant, becoming the first mixed-race infantry officer in the British Army. This he accomplished despite the 1914 Manual of Military Law excluding soldiers considered not "of pure European descent" from becoming commissioned officers. With the 23rd Battalion, Tull fought in Italy from November 1917 and was cited for his "gallantry and coolness", twice leading his men on raids across the treacherous Piave River into enemy territory, returning all unharmed. He was ‘mentioned in despatches’ and is thought to have been recommended for the Military Cross by Major-General Sydney Lawford, the 41st Division’s Commanding Officer. The background of this panel shows the ribbon of the Military Cross, traditionally Purple and White, Boast has chosen to use Claret and White to echo the traditional colours of Northampton Town Football Club. Significantly, the portrait of 2nd Lieutenant Walter Daniel John Tull in his officer’s uniform remains unpainted. Tull was never awarded the MC and the campaign to have him posthumously granted this honour is ongoing. Boast will work with the Northampton Town Community Trust education program to complete the portrait and add a blue wash to the ribbon (so it becomes purple), only when this historical wrong is righted.

Tull and the 23rd Battalion were reassigned to northern France in early March 1918. On the 25th of March, during intense fighting in the early stages of the enemy’s Spring Offensive, Walter was killed in action near the village of Favreuil, Arras. His body was never recovered, despite the efforts of his men, including Private Tom Billingham, a goalkeeper with Leicester, who tried in vain to return his body whilst under fire. In a letter to Walter’s family the commanding officer of the 23rd Battalion, Major Poole and his colleague 2Lt Pickard both said that Tull had been put forward for a Military Cross. Pickard is represented in this panel as he writes of Walter; "he had been recommended for the Military Cross, and certainly earned it." The rainbow background of this panel reflects the colouring of the ribbon for The Allied Victory Medal. Eligibility for this medal included all mobilised in any of the fighting services and serving in any theatre of operation during WW1 and could be awarded posthumously.

The Walter Tull Medal Mural is now proudly on display in the main reception here at Sixfields to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Northampton Town Football Club and to further the reach of Walter’s story, hoping to inspire a new generation, and a future of Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity in every field.

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