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Some of London’s fallen of 1 July 1916

The first day of the Battle of the Somme is one of the most remembered and commemorated days in Britain’s military history. On that day the British Army suffered its worst casualties of any single day in its history.

I try not to focus too much on the war dead – it is also important to remember those who served and survived (and to remember the impact of the war at home in London) – but the centenary of the first day of that battle stands out as a day to reflect on the cost of the war in the starkest terms. It is impossible to say how many Londoners were killed or wounded on 1 July 1916, but we can look at the record of London infantry units involved in the battle.

16 Middx

Soldiers of the 16th Battalion (Public Schools), Middlesex Regiment are taken back down the slope after having reached the crater on Hawthorn Ridge, which is on the centre of the horizon. The photograph was taken at 7.45 am, 1st July 1916. © IWM (Q 755)

If we look at the number of fatalities recorded for 1 July and the subsequent four days (many of whom would have died of wounds from 1 July), we can see how badly some of the London and Middlesex battalions were affected by the fighting. These figures come from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s database of the war dead:

Unit 01-Jul-16 02-Jul-16 03-Jul-16 04-Jul-16 05-Jul-16 Total Of which recorded on Thiepval memorial to the missing
1/2nd 1/3rd and 1/4th Bns, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) 275 11 7 4 5 302 183
1/12th Bn, London Regiment (The Rangers) 149 2 3 154 100
1/13th Bn, London Regiment (Kensingtons) 58 6 1 2 67 42
1/14th Bn, London Regiment (London Scottish) 220 3 1 224 180
1/15th Bn, London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) 275 6 1 282 219
1/16th Bn, London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifles) 172 2 1 175 131
1/9th Bn, London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles) 221 4 1 2 1 229 179
London Regiment total 1370 32 15 9 7 1433 1034
2nd Bn, Middlesex Regiment 270 3 1 0 0 274 237
4th Bn, Middlesex Regiment 90 82 0 2 0 174 113
12th Bn, Middlesex Regiment 6 0 0 0 8 14 4
16th Bn, Middlesex Regiment (Public Schools) 160 7 2 2 0 171 91
Middlesex Regiment total 526 92 3 4 8 633 445
               
London and Middeseex Regiments 1896 124 18 13 15 2066 1479

So, from these 11 battalions, over 2,000 men died over those days. Almost three quarters of them have no known grave and are recorded on the Thiepval memorial to the missing. (The ‘total’ figures are for these battalions, not the whole London or Middlesex Regiments, each of which suffered a handful of other casualties during those days).

Each figure in the table was, of course, a man – most likely a young men and in this case probably a Londoner. Among them were:

Clifford Hugh Butcher, an 18-year-old from Leyton, whom we met in a previous post about the appeals for information published in the newspapers during the latter half of 1916. His picture appeared in the Daily Sketch in August 1916.

Rfm Clifford H Butcher from Leyton

Rfm Clifford H Butcher from Leyton © IWM (HU 93372)

 

Private Henry Leicester Oldham from Lavender Hill, SW. He was the son of a retired butler and was serving in 9th Platoon, “C” Company, Queen’s Westminster Rifles when he was reported missing on 1 July.

Pte Henry L Oldham from Lavender Hill, Battersea

Pte Henry L Oldham from Lavender Hill,  Battersea © IWM (HU 93490)

 

 

One man who was wounded but not killed that day was Captain George Johnson, an old soldier commissioned from the ranks during the war. The National Army Museum has his tunic, which I discovered and researched for their 2006 exhibition on the Battle of the Somme when I was a curator there.

Tunic of Captain Johnson, 2nd Middlesex. He was wounded in the hip and arm on 1 July 1916, his tunic clearly shows where it was cut away from his wounds. Image © National Army Museum

Tunic of Captain Johnson, 2nd Middlesex. He was wounded in the hip and arm on 1 July 1916, his tunic clearly shows where it was cut away from his wounds. Image © National Army Museum

The caption I wrote for it is used on the NAM website:

“Johnson was wounded on 1 July 1916 during the attack on Ovillers-La Boisselle on the Somme. Machine-gun fire devastated his battalion and although a few men reached the second line of German trenches, by the end of the day all had returned to the British lines or lay in no-man’s land. All but 50 of the battalion were killed, wounded or reported missing. Johnson was wounded in the chest, pelvis and right forearm. You can see where his uniform was cut away from his arm. He survived the war and lived until his 90s.”

These men were just some of the thousands of Londoners who were killed or wounded on 1 July 1916. The British Army suffered nearly 60,000 casualties that day, including 19,000 dead. The sheer number of casualties – and the reality of the fighting that caused them – is almost unimaginable for most of us today. One hundred years on, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the sacrifice made by the nation, its Empire and its allies that day in Picardy.

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Posted by on 1 July 2016 in Ordinary Londoners, War Dead

 

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A long way to Piccadilly

In 1920, a book called 500 of the best Cockney War Stories was published by the London Evening News (“with an opening yarn by General Sir Ian Hamilton”).

Here is one, contributed by R. Allen, a veteran of the Middlesex Regiment (one of its battalions in the 41st Division), living in Finchley after the war. For context you need to know that Swan and Edgar was a department store on Piccadilly; like many famous landmarks it had a trench named after it.

Towards the end of September 1918 I was one of a party of nine men and an officer taking part in a silent raid in the Ypres sector, a little in front of the well-known spot called Swan and Edgar’s Corner. The raid was the outcome of an order from Headquarters demanding prisoners for information.

Everything had been nicely arranged. We were to approach the German line by stealth, surprise an outpost, and get back quickly to our own trenches with the prisoners.

Owing perhaps to the wretchedness of the night—it was pouring with rain, and intensely black—things did not work according to plan. Instead of reaching our objective, our party became divided, and the group that I was with got hopelessly lost. There were five of us, including “Ginger,” a Cockney.

We trod warily for about an hour, when we suddenly came up against a barbed-wire entanglement, in the centre of which we could just make out the figure of a solitary German. After whispered consultation, we decided to take him prisoner, knowing that the German, having been stationary, had not lost sense of direction and could guide us back to our line. Noiselessly surmounting the barbed wire, we crept up to him and in a second Ginger was on him. Pointing his bayonet in Fritz’s back, he said, “Nah, then, you blighter, show us the way ‘ome.”

Very coolly and without the slightest trace of fear, the German replied in perfect English, “I suppose you mean me to lead you to the British trenches.”

“Oh!” said Ginger, “so yer speak English, do yer?”

“Yes,” said the German, “I was a waiter at a restaurant in Piccadilly before the War.”

“Piccadilly, eh? You’re just the feller we want. Take us as far as Swan and Edgar’s Corner.”

German prisoners, September 1918 © IWM (Q 11334)

German prisoners, September 1918 © IWM (Q 11334)

 
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Posted by on 16 September 2015 in Famous companies, Ordinary Londoners

 

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Joseph Ball, shot at dawn

At 7.30am on 12 January 1915, a firing squad was assembled behind the British lines on the Western Front. Its grim task was to carry out the first double execution of British soldiers in the war. Those men were Private J Ball and F Sheffield of the 2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. This is Joseph Ball’s story.

The Shot at Dawn memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire

The Shot at Dawn memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire

Joseph Ball was born in West Kilburn; by 1912, he was 18, working as a van guard, and apparently keen to join the army. First up, he joined the Special Reserve (which could be called up in wartime) in the 5th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, in May. Then in August, he enlisted full-time as a soldier in the same regiment’s 2nd Battalion. He is described as fresh of complexion, with dark brown hair. Ball served with the unit in England for a year before it went to Malta in September 1913.

In his peacetime service, Ball was far from the perfect soldier. Every month or so, he was punished for some misdemeanour: untidiness, dirtiness, having a rusty rifle, not complying with orders, absence from parade and falling asleep while on sentry duty. The punishments ranged from brief detention, to a few days confinment to barracks, to simply an admonishment.

It was clear to his officers that this young man was not good soldier material. In March 1913, his Company commander wrote to the battalion’s adjutant, “Pte Ball was brought before me again today. I have remanded him in order to ask whether the [battalion’s Commanding Officer] cannot apply for his discharge. The man has absolutely no vice but is less than half witted. He will never make a soldier.”

It was not at all unusual for new recruits to be rejected as unlikely to become an “efficient soldier”, although in this case the application was for discharge as no longer required. In the year to September 1912, over two hundred recruits were rejected by the army within their first three months’ service for reasons over than medical; the following year the figure was 148. Around 400 were rejected on medical grounds in that same period after enlistment.

Sadly for all concerned, this officer’s recommendation for Ball’s discharge was not heeded. The soldier stayed in the Company; his annual reviews reported him (perhaps surprisingly) as of “Fair” military character, but noted that he was “Untidy and unreliable. Weak intellect”.

In September 1914, the 2nd Middlesex went rushed back from Malta to England in readiness to go to war. They arrived in France on 6 November, with Ball in their ranks. According to David Stevenson’s website on Middlesex regiment soldiers who were executed, Ball and Private Frederick Sheffield deserted together: “After only six weeks active service, they had deserted together from their unit. … Ball and Sheffield were discovered hiding in a barn, pretending to be French civilians. They were tried on 30 December 1914.”

Details of Ball's trial and execution, from his service record.

Details of Ball’s trial and execution, from his service record.

The Field General Court Martial convicted them of “when a soldier on active service attempting to desert His Majesty’s Service and sentenced [them] to suffer death by being shot.” Field Marshal Sir John French confirmed the sentence, and the two men were shot on 12 January 1915.  They are now remembered on the Le Touret Memorial in France.

It seems from Joseph Ball’s service record that the 2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, let themselves and this young soldier down terribly. Despite his clear inadequacy as a soldier, they kept him on for some reason, punishing his misdemeanours but not sending him back out into civilian life. When it came to the Great War, they took this unreliable soldier with them to France, and when he deserted, ruthless punishment ensued and he was executed.

Sources:

  • J Ball’s service record
  • Annual reports of the British Army, 1912-13 and 1913-1919
  • David Stevenson’s website on Middlesex Regiment men shot at dawn
  • The website Blindfold and Alone shows the stages of trial and confirmation/variation of sentence involved in cases like Ball’s (although his case is not featured)

 

 
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Posted by on 12 January 2015 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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The Kaiser’s Own

In previous posts we have seen how some ‘alien enemies’ were attacked by their fellow Londoners, and how others joined up to fight for Britain. Others, naturalised citizens or British-born with parents who were aliens ended up as labourers in the Middlesex Regiment’s Alien Labour units.

In 1916, Army Orders established two new battalions in the Middlesex Regiment. These would contain recruits who were British citizens but the children of immigrants from nations with whom Britain was at war; the men were promised that they would not have to bear arms against the enemy. The units were named the 30th and 31st battalions and they served only in the UK. Some additional similar Labour Companies were also formed in 1917 and served in France. The units were known (rather cruelly) by some as “The Kaiser’s Own”.

Crest of the Middlesex Regiment

Several Londoners served in the 31st Battalion – which ended the war based in Croydon.

Hugo Max Norman Hotopf was born in Northumberland in 1881, the son of Hugo and Johanna who were German immigrants naturalised as British citizens in 1895. By the start of the Great War he was married, living in Lewisham, and had a son – William Hugh Norman Hotopf, born June 1914. Norman was working as a dye expert for the rather Germanic-sounding Badische Company in Brunswick Place near Old Street.

In 1916 he appealed for exemption from military service at the Shoreditch Military Service Tribunal, explaining that he was a chemical expert whose work was helping the British war effort. The Daily Mirror (19/8/1916) picked up on the story after Hotopf recounted his time before the war (in 1905-13) working at the chemical works at Ludwighafen, which the British had bombed in 1915.  The fate of that appeal is not reported, but he was eventually conscripted into the 31st Middlesex.

Hotopf’s appeal reported in the Daily Mirror, 19/8/1916

After the war, the Hotopfs continued to live in Lewisham, adding a daughter (Ruth) to the family in 1919. They retained links with Germany, though, with Norman junior spending part of his youth there before going to Cambridge University. In March 1938, Norman senior and his wife (then living in Forest Hill) attended a farewell dinner held for German ambassador Herr von Ribbentrop in London. They also went to Germany, where Norman senior died in April – in Bühlerhöhe, Baden-Baden. Norman junior became a prestigious professor of psychology.

Oddly, a neighbour of Hotopf’s  in Queensthorpe Road, Sydenham was also in the Battalion. Walter R Kinge lived at number 20, a few doors down from Hotopf at number 14, and served in the 31st Middlesex.

Alois Frederick Pfeiffer was born in around 1889 in Bermondsey, son of Alois Pfeiffer from Bavaria and his English-born wife Emma (technically, she became German when she married Alois). Alois senior and Emma were licenced victualler’s assistants in 1901 – they worked in a pub – and at some point after her husband’s death in 1905, Emma became the landlady of the Leather Exchange Tavern in Bermondsey.

When the Great War came along, two of Emma’s sons served in the British Army. Frederick Charles Pfeiffer served in the 2nd/4th London Regiment, which went out to Egypt in August 1915 and on to Gallipoli in October. Frederick died there in November aged 24. His elder brother Alois junior ended up in B Company of the 31st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.

In February 1919, Alois junior was still in the unit and his mother made an appeal for his release on compassionate grounds. Frustrated by slow progress, Emma Pfeiffer went to her MP – Harold Glanville – who brought up the case in parliament. Eventually, Alois F Pfeiffer returned to Bermondsey and lived in London for several more decades.

Unlike Hotopf and Pfeiffer, Edward Kehlstadt was actually born in Germany, in the town of Gebweiler, Alsace (now in France). When he became liable for service in the British armed forces in 1916, he was a stockbroker’s clerk living with his English-born wife Blanche in (aptly, or unfortunately) in Berlin Road, Catford – renamed Canadian Avenue in 1918. Edward Kehlstadt joined the 31st Middlesex in March 1917. After training, he joined the 3rd Infantry Labour Company in France in June 1917; he served with them for more than a year. Following a spell of leave back in the UK in the summer of 1918, he went back out to France, but only until September 1918.

Edward Kehlstadt’s record of service

After being admitted to hospital with boils, Edward Kehlstadt was sent back to England at the end of September and back to the 31st Battalion. A few weeks later, he died in Cavendish Bridge Voluntary Aid Detatchment (VAD) Hospital in Shardlow, Derbyshire, on 21 October 1918. A few days later, he was buried in Ladywell cemetery.

Blanche Kehlstadt wrote to the War Office requesting a badge of the Middlesex Regiment as a memento of her husband’s service with the unit. Edward’s name appears on the war memorial at St Mary’s Church, Lewisham, where he and Blanche had married in 1909.

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These three men, two English with German parents, one German-born but naturalised as a British citzen, were all Londoner’s who served in ‘The Kaiser’s Own’. It is impossible to know, but interesting to ponder what their feelings were about serving in an army that was fighting their – or their family’s – homeland. Did Hotopf’s links to Germany make him reluctant to join up? Did Kehlstadt the Alsatian-Londoner feel German, English, or even French when he served in the Labour Company in France? Wars hold millions of stories about millions of men, women and children. These three men and their families had a different war from those around them, with closer ties to the enemy than most had they were not trusted to (or were sympathetically allowed not to) fight at the front, but still served their country.

 
 

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Too young to fight: Herbert J Bryant

Many young men and boys tried to enlist in the armed forces underage in 1914 and 1915. Some did so repeatedly. Herbert James Bryant was one of them, briefly joining two different units in 1915 before eventually being conscripted in 1918.

In the first 17 months of the war, the British armed forces were made up (at least legally) of voluntarily-enlisted men. Many who enlisted in this period were underage boys, many making into the army at the age of 13 or 14 – Richard van Emden describes the experiences of some of them in his book Boy Soldiers of the Great War.

Willesden lad Herbert James Bryant was one of those boys who managed to get into the army in 1915 despite being underage (He may well have tried unsuccessfully before then, but there is no record of it).

In June 1915, Bryant joined the Middlesex Regiment, telling them that he was a brass worker aged 18 years and 11 months. How obvious it was that he was too young is hard to say, but this young 5 feet 4 inch fair-haired and blue-eyed boy did not last long in the army. On his first day with his unit, 10 June, he absconded and disappeared for a week until the civil police picked him up on the 18th. The next day he was discharged for having lied about his age.

Bryant's (short) record in the Middlesex Regiment

Bryant’s (short) record in the Middlesex Regiment

Not to be discouraged, he enlisted again (describing himself as a painter’s labourer) two months later on 31 August, this time in the Royal Fusiliers – joining their 27th (Reserve Battalion). In the three months before he was again discharged for lying about his age, Bryant was repeatedly punished with confinement to barracks and cessation of pay for unauthorized absences and malingering.

When Bryant was sent back to civvie street on 28 December 1915, the nation was on the verge of adopting conscription to replace the voluntary enlistment that was not finding sufficient recruits. In theory, with a National Register compiled in August 1915 and a new official system for recruitment, it should have been much harder for underage boys to get into the army.

It took another 28 months for Bryant to get back into the army. Although he was ‘deemed to have enlisted’ in June 1917 (under the terms of the Military Service Act) he was not called up until April 1918, the delay presumably due to his employment at Small Arms Factory in Acton. He had certainly grown up since 1915, now being 5 feet 7.5 inches in height with tattoos on his forearms: a heart and an anchor.

Bryant's details when he was conscripted - including previous service and date of birth

Bryant’s details when he was conscripted – including previous service and date of birth

Despite his ‘A1’ fitness, Bryant was never sent to the front. After four months in the 5th Reserve Cavalry Regiment, he transferred to the Tank Corps, eventually joining the 19th Battalion on 21 September. After being granted home leave for Christmas 1918, he was discharged from the army on 13 March 1919.

Join the Tank Corps - 1919 recruiting poster (c) IWM

“Join the Tank Corps” (1919 recruiting poster (c) IWM) – Bryant rejoined the Tank Corps around this time.

Bryant was not done with military service, thought, and rejoined on demobilisation. He stayed on in the Tank Corps, serving in the 20th and 5th Battalions in 1918-20, during which time he again got in trouble repeatedly for overstaying his leave, absence and neglect of duty. Eventually his service was cut short but a series of illnesses: after contracting from gonorrhea, he also suffered from variocele and was then discharged suffering from ‘Disordered Action of the Heart’ (“DAH”).

Herbert James Bryant was one of the many boys who tired to join the army underage in 1914 and 1915. Eventually he did join up, conscripted in 1918. Oddly, though, he may still have been underage. His Tank Corps service papers give his date of birth as 25 June 1899 (which led to his official enlistment on his 18th birthday in 1917, before his call-up). Strangely, it seems that he was still only 16 when he joined up in early 1918, though. On the 1911 census, Herbert Bryant is listed as a 9 year-old; he does not appear in the 1901 census and his birth was registered in summer 1901 rather than 1899.

1911 census entry for Herbert Bryant's family - note his age: 9 year.

1911 census entry for Herbert Bryant’s family – note his age: 9 year.

It seems mostly likely that he gave a fake date of birth in the National Register in 1915 (just before he joined the Royal Fusiliers) and was called up on the basis of that information three years later. That means that he was originally accepted into the Middlesex Regiment in 1915 at the age of 12 or 13.

Whether it was a sense of duty, a desire for adventure or social pressure that drove boys like Herbert James Bryant to enlist is hard to say, and their motives probably varied just as much as those of other enlistees. What is clear is the Bryant was keen to join up, repeatedly lying about his age to get into khaki, apparently even fooling the conscription system in 1918.

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Thanks to David Underton for pointing out that DAH in the Great War stood for Disordered Action of the Heart, rather than its modern meaning Diffuse Alveolar Hemorrhage.

 
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Posted by on 4 January 2013 in Ordinary Londoners, Recruitment

 

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Walter Tull and the black Great War heroes of the British Army

October is black history month in the UK. I will be including a few posts relating to black history and Great War London. First up is the most prominent black Londoner of the war, Walter Tull, and some of his fellow black British Army heroes of 1914-18.

Water Tull’s story is fairly well-known know, and is related in depth on websites including ‘Crossing the White Line’ (link). In short, he was born in Folkestone in 1888, the son of a Barbadian carpenter and his English wife. After both parents died while their children were young, Walter and his brother Edward were sent to the Children’s Home and Orphanage on Bonner Road, Bethnal Green. A keen footballer, the young Walter began playing for local Clapton FC in 1908-09 and was signed up as a professional footballer for Tottenham Hotspur the following season. Although he played well, racists incidents occurred at matches, and he was dropped from the first team. He found a new home, though, at Northampton Town FC, for whom he played 110 matches and scored 9 goals.

After the Great War began in summer 1914, there was much criticism of professional football for keeping men out of the army. In response a ‘Footballers’ Battalion’ was formed in the Middlesex Regiment (the 17th Bn) on 12 December. Tull was one of its earliest recruits, joining in London on 21 December and given the number 55. His rapid promotion over the next few months (lance corporal in February, corporal in June and lance serjeant in July 1915) is evidence of his leadership quality. The battalion – and L/Sgt Tull – arrived in France in November 1915, just in time for a freezing winter in the trenches. He served with them until April 1916 when he was admitted to a field hospital suffering from ‘acute mania’ and eventually sent back to the UK.

After a break in the reserve 27th and 6th battalions, Tull was clearly well enough to serve again and he arrived in the 23rd (2nd Football) Battalion on 20 September 1916, mid-way through the battle of Flers-Courcelette – part of the Battle of the Somme. He served with the unit through the battle of Le Transloy in October. In late November he filled out an application to be commissioned as an officer. A month later, his application was approved and he went to Scotland for officer training – despite a specific rule in Army Orders restricting officer status to men of ‘pure European descent’. He was the first black or mixed-race officer in the British Army.

Walter Tull’s application to become an officer

Rejoining the 23rd Middlesex as an officer, Tull was popular and effective. The unit fought through the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) before being sent to Italy in November. In clashes on the river Piave, he was praised for his “gallantry and coolness” by Sir Sidney Lawford (commander of the 41st Division), who wrote described his heroism: “You were one of the first to cross the river prior to the raid, and during the raid you took the covering party of the main body across and brought them back without a casualty inspite of heavy fire.” He was recommended for the Military Cross, but was not awarded it.

Walter Tull and two fellow-officers

The 41st Division returned to France in February-March 1918, just in time for the German Spring Offensive, which was launched on 21 March. A few days in, during the First Battle of Bapaume, Tull was killed in action by a machine-gun bullet that hit him in the head. His body was buried by comrades, but as the Germans advanced the 23rd Middlesex retreated and the grave was lost. Tull is now commemorated on the Arras memorial to the missing. (A brother of his also died in the war: William, who is buried in Folkestone)

Walter Tull was an impressive man – coming from an orphanage to become a well-regarded officer is impressive enough, let alone doing so against a military law-book that denied non-white men the right to be officers. There is a campaign to award Tull the Military Cross posthumously, based on the assumption that it was denied purely because he was not white. While this may be the case, I find it unlikely that it was that simple – his commission was approved not only by officers who knew him but those (in administrative and training posts) who had never seen him in action, overlooking both his West Indian origins and his treatment for ‘mania’. The fact is that medals recommended were not always awarded: for example, Siegfried Sassoon was reportedly recommended for the Victoria Cross but did not receive it.

More pertinent to the Tull case is the intriguing example of Private John Williams, whose picture appeared in the African Telegraph in March 1919 with the title ‘The Man whom White Soldiers Call “The Black V.C.”.’ The caption then describes Williams as having been awarded the DCM, MM, Russian Cross of St George, French Médaille militaire and Légion d’honneur. He doesn’t appear to be wearing quite that many medals in the photo, but is certainly decorated and carrying four wound stripes. His ‘many brave deeds’ would supposedly have been enough to “earn any European the V.C.”

“The Black VC” Pte John Williams DCM MM (c)British Library

It is not clear whether Williams was British, West Indian or African, although having been honoured by the French he must have served in a British unit (rather than the British West Indies Regiment, which fought in the Middle East but only did support work in France and Flanders). It seems odd that his story has been forgotten while Tull has become a cause célèbre.

Another intriguing African Telegraph photo is this one – also from the African Telegraph – of ‘A West African Soldier “Walking Out” in London’. The story tells of the number of African soldiers in the British Army, who became known as “Coloured Army Knuts” (knut being a slang term for showy young men).

A West African soldier in London (c)British Library

“Some of these young men left their studies to join the British Army upon the outbreak of hostilities and rendered a very good account of themselves in the trenches and fields of Flanders, many of them wear coveted distinctions, and one form Oxford University won the M.C. for a particularly daring deed with the Tank Corps.”

If this report is accurate (I have no reason to think it false, but have not been able to corroborate it with other sources), then there was a Military Cross awarded to a black man during the Great War. This man’s background – as an African at Oxford University – was very different to Tull’s, but he must have been an officer or at least a Warrant Officer to be awarded the MC. Who was this man?

Telling the stories of these decorated black soldiers in Britain’s Great War army is not an attempt to do down Tull’s story. He was very impressive and brave; we should remember him and his sacrifice. But we should not assume that his lack of reward for his bravery was necessarily due to racism. Nor should we forget the other black soldiers who fought with great bravery in the same army.

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Update: since writing this, I have become aware of at least one black/mixed-race officer who was commissioned before Tull (and was also killed in action). Read more about G.E.K. Bemand on this blog post, where I tell his story and consider his and Tull’s parallel stories.

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Sources:
On Tull – resources on the website Crossing the White Line; Tull’s service record online at Movinghere.org.uk.
The Long, Long Trail.
BL photos tagged ‘black history month’

 
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Posted by on 1 October 2012 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

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