Walter Tull’s Scrapbook

Written by Michaela Morgan
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

This is the true story of Walter Tull (1888-1918), the first professional Black footballer in the UK, who joined the Football Battalion at the outbreak of World War I, rose to become an officer (unheard of for a Black man) and was killed on the Somme in March 1918, age 29. His body was never recovered.

Michaela Morgan tells his story through his scrapbook, which is a brilliant device. It enables her to show original material, such as Tull family photos covering his childhood with his family and, later, after his father’s death, his life in the orphanage; newspaper cuttings covering his football career; the telegram sent from Buckingham Palace offering sympathy at his death; cigarette cards of the period and other contemporary items. Ian Benfold Hayward supplies drawings of an Edwardian footballer’s kit, First World I army uniform, a cross-section of a dug-out at the Front and so on.

It all adds up to a lively and engrossing account of Walter’s life, and the illustrations, both contemporary and modern, allow the reader to get a real feeling for what his life must have been like, especially in the trenches. Walter himself comes across as an intelligent and talented man. It is a tribute to his courage and leadership qualities that he was not only put forward for officer training (the rule book specified that it was only for men of ‘pure European descent’), but also mentioned in dispatches and recommended for the Military Cross.

It doesn’t pull its punches about the horrors of war but it does so in a responsible way. It also shows the camaraderie and the bravery of the troops – and their horses – under appalling conditions. I think any boy of 7+ who is interested in World War I would love this book. Highly recommended.