Black History Month: Walter Tull

Oraine Johnson in The Hallowed Turf

Oraine Johnson in The Hallowed Turf - Credit: Archant

Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British Army, is to be portrayed in a new play, touring this year in celebration of Black History Month.

Although sport and theatre don’t often mix, they do in a new play about Walter Tull, the Spurs and Northampton football star who became the first Black British combat officer to serve in World War I. Gazebo Theatre’s latest production, ‘The Hallowed Turf’, tells the true story of Walter Tull through the eyes of a young unknown soldier who meets his hero on the front line.

The grandson of a slave, Walter Tull became the ultimate role model being only the second black footballer to compete at the top division in the early 20th century. He made history in the army as well as on the pitch. He enlisted in 1914, survived Passchendale and the Battle of the Somme to become the first black officer in the British army in 1917 – a virtually unimaginable achievement at that time - and was singled out for ‘gallantry and coolness’ when leading a risky expedition over a frozen river on the Italian front. He died on the Somme in 1918.

Gazebo’s new play, complemented by a backdrop of original film footage courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, draws on Walter’s experiences to create an inspiring story of bravery and friendship in the midst of the horrors of trench warfare. A national tour of The Hallowed Turf starts this Autumn to tie in with Black History Month and the anniversary of World War I.

Historian and Broadcaster Matthew Ward at History Needs You said: “Walter Tull was a great gentleman who rose above abuse and discrimination. He showed the way forward and is an inspirational figure for all. I’m so glad Gazebo Theatre will be sharing his story with so many people across the UK and I look forward to hearing the great man given a voice by Oraine Johnson.”

The great niece and nephew of Walter Tull will be attending the play at their local theatre Eden Court in Inverness. Pat Justad, great niece of Walter Rull, said: “As a family, we have been glad that Walter has been such an inspiration, and his life story has been used to highlight many important issues. ’Uncle Walter’ was always a hero within the family, and as children we took any opportunity to boast about his football career and the fact that he was the first black officer in the British Army.”

Following campaigns petitioned to the government last year to posthumously award Tull a Military Cross for his heroism by legendary footballers such as Garth Crooks and Sol Campbell, Walter Tull will now be remembered on special sets of coins released by the Royal Mint as part of commemorations of the centenary of the First World War. Gazebo Theatre hopes their play will strengthen public campaigns to recognise Walter Tull’s courage and are now delivering specially designed workshops for schools exploring the issues raised in the play.

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‘The Hallowed Turf’ Featuring Oraine Johnson and Kaine Barr is the latest offering from Gazebo Theatre who have been producing theatre and arts programmes for the last 35 years. The show is touring nationally in October 2014, including a local show at The Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury on Tuesday September 30.

Tickets for the performance are available now; to book, call 01684 295074 or visit www.rosestheatre.org