The First World War – Black Briton’s Served Too

Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II

Walter Tull

Walter Tull was the second black player in Football League history. His father was a carpenter from Barbados who settled here and married a local girl. By the age of nine both of Walters’ parents had died and he was sent to an orphanage and there he developed a love of football.

He had a natural talent and this was spotted whilst playing at an amateur Cup match. In 1909 he was signed up by Tottenham Hotspurs football team. With the advent of war Walter joined the 17th battalion of the Middlesex regiment. He spent time in France.

In 1915 he was made a sergeant, in 1917, a Second Lieutenant. He was the only black combat officer in the British army, whilst fighting in the second battle of the Somme this gallant man was killed by a bullet through the head. In spite of racism and all the harsh conditions of the battlefield, Walter Tull was noted for his ‘gallantry and coolness’ He was recommended for a Military Cross, but his body was never found.

Read Black History Bootleg Page for Walter Tull

Dr John Alcindor

Born in Trinidad in 1873, he graduated from Edinburgh University’s medical school in 1899. Dr Alcindor settled in London where opened his own general practice.

He was a founding member of the London-based African Progress Union (APU). In his spare time he wrote and published papers on Influenza, cancer and TB.

When war broke out in 1914, he naturally wanted to help out, but was rejected by the Army Medical Corps because he was Black. He instead volunteered for the International Red Cross and treated wounded soldiers as they returned from the front and arrived at London railway stations. After the war he returned to his practice and died in 1924. The Red Cross describe him:

“John Alcindor was a gifted doctor, respected and trusted by his many patients.”

Read more about Dr John Alcindor in the post by the Red Cross

Lionel Turpin

Born in Guyana in 1896, Lionel Turpin joined the merchant navy. He came to Britain and when he enlisted to join the army in York in 1915, he was living in Collingwood. He joined the Lancaster Regiment. He served on the British Expeditionary Force and went on 3 expeditions in France.

He was gassed and wounded and suffered a lot pain after the war according to his sons. He married Beatrice Elizabeth Whitehouse and had 5 children.

He died of his wounds in 1929 leaving Beatrice to look after their 5 children.

Beatrice’s father was involved in the boxing world. Two of their sons, Randy and Dick both went on to have boxing careers. In 1951 Randy (Randolph) Turpin beat the world champion, Sugar Ray Robinson and became Britain’s first Black boxer to become world boxing champion. Dick Turpin was a British Commonwealth boxing champion.

Read more about Lionel Turpin in Beyond the Western Front and Our Warwickshire

What’s in a Name

Those involved are often difficult to track down as the records for service men and women often only show their name. African Americans, African Caribbeans and African Europeans who are descendants of people who were kidnapped and enslaved by infamous slave traders and slave owners were denied their names. Their identities and their roots severed. One school teacher in England complained that he could not find information bout Black role models received five pages from one of the parents to explain why. Read more in What’s in a Name?

Black Poppy Rose – see their page for World War I.