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Britain’s first black army officer – family say still a ‘long way to go’

A black post-box featuring an image of Second Lieutenant Walter Tull was recently unveiled to mark Black History month in Britain.

Members of the public walking past the black post-box on Byres Road, Glasgow may agree that the country still has a long way to go when it comes to tackling race inequality.

The grand-nephew of the Second Lieutenant Tull, who was the first British black Army officer, said that he often reflected on his grandfather’s struggle in overcoming adversity.

At a time when the Army did not permit a person of non-European descent to become an officer, Walter Tull served in the First World War as a second lieutenant.

Walter Tull passed away in March 1918, aged just 29 after leading an attack on the Western Front which took place during the second Battle of the Somme.

As if being one of the most celebrated British black soldiers was not enough, Walter Tull was also one of the first black professional football players in Britain. Despite facing racial discrimination, Walter played for Tottenham Hotspur.

Grand-nephew Edward Finlayson, aged 69 and hailing from Edinburgh, said that Mr Tull’s amazing story of resilience has inspired people for more than 100 years after his death. He frequently received letters from the under 12 club at Manchester United who wrote of their joy in learning about Mr Tull.

Unfortunately says Mr Finlayson, racial inequality continues to hamper the lives of black, Asian minority ethnic people (BAME). He went on to describe events he had witnessed during the civil rights movement, along with the anti-racist campaigns which were prominent during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Even though it is nearly 60 later we still see images and stories about Black Lives Matter. Racism is not just prevalent in the US, it is sadly still very much alive in the UK.

Mr Finlayson commented that regarding pay and opportunities, there are systematic disadvantages faced by black people which continue to grow.

This, said Mr Finlayson, should be a matter of great concern due to the effect that this will have on the wrong side of the divide, namely for those people who are not offered opportunities or treated with respect.

Such people are then condemned for failing to improve themselves, and they are criticised by a section of society who have no idea how other people’s lives operate and know very little about privilege.

Even in this day and age there is no room for complacency and the country still has a long way to go.

Thinking back to his ancestor, Mr Finlayson said that Walter Tull and his brother Edward Tull-Warnock were orphaned at an early age. They were taken to the National Children’s Home, which is now known as Action for Children and is based in Bethnal Green, East London.

The two boys were lucky enough to receive an education. They were adopted by loving families which led to both boys to become successful. Edward Tull-Warnock qualified and became the first black dentist in Britain.

One of four special edition black post-boxes to mark Black History Month features an image of Second Lieutenant Walter Tull and is placed in Glasgow, on Byres Road.

Sadly, some children from BAME backgrounds are continually faced with greater challenges for their chances in life, said the director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, Mr Imran Hussain.

‘It is well known that child poverty in Britain is too high. It was rising even before the advent of the coronavirus crisis. Black and Asian children face the biggest risks of poverty.’

Mr Hussain went on to say that there are some disturbing inequalities when looking at the numbers of children from different ethnic groups who find themselves in the care system. Young BAME people also are less likely to have access to early health services.

More needs to be done to talk directly with BAME children, young people, and families. Additionally, more positive encouragement in the shape of BAME role models needs to be in place, with negative behaviour and stereotypes being challenged.

Mr Hussain said that the charity sector needs to respond to prejudice and hardship ‘with action.’

Action for Children said that children from BAME backgrounds continue to face far greater challenges in their life.

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