I recently made a visit to the queens museum to have a chat with Alan who works to archive the files and donated possessions possessed by the museum. In our previous visits Alan mentioned two soldiers stories that stayed with me after we left, the lives of Walter Tull and Wilfred Percy Nevill.
The life story of Walter Tull is one that has gained great attention recently and a feature length film is in production for release in 2016. Tull was the second black football player to be signed into a major British football league, though he was met with accounts of racial bigotry from fans, papers of the time met him with admiration, stating “Tull is a model for all white men who play football.”
When war broke out Tull enlisted in 1914, by 1917 he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant and become the first mixed raced Officer in the British army to command white soldiers despite the 1914 Manual of Military Law specifically forbidding it. Going on to fight in Italy from 1917-18 he was cited for his gallantry and coolness whilst in command. Returning to France in 1918 Tull was killed during a Spring Offensive near the town of Favreuil, though he was recommended for a military cross it was never awarded.
Billie was born on 14th July 1894 in Canonbury, NE London into a family of coal merchants. In 1907 at the age of thirteen he was enrolled at Dover College which he later left in 1913 to study Classics at Jesus College, Cambridge.
In 1914 Billie left college to volunteer and become a 2nd Lieutenant, joining the 8th Battalion of The East Surrey Regiment, and in 1915 was posted to France where he would given command of B Company.
On the 1st July 1916, whilst in command of B company, was ordered to assault the German trenches. In an attempt to motivate the troops to cover over 400 yards of no mans land Nevill issued each of his four platoons with a football. At 7.27am that morning Nevill would be the first to climb out of the trench and kick one of the footballs towards the german trench line.
Nevill was shot in the head and killed just short of the German line, after more reinforcements the attack raged on for 9 hours. Casualties on the Somme that day were over 57,000, out of the 120,000 that left the trenches more than 20,000 died in the first 30 minutes. Nevill became a British national hero but the act was simply seen as madness by the Germans.
The next step for the work is to go about finding models who look similar to the soldiers and create portraits of them either in authentic uniforms or clothes that they would of worn whilst at college or on the football pitch at the time.
Aswell as the portraits myself and John are still in search for some waste ground to use for a small experiment involving the training manuals John has been researching, we have also both discussed the idea of opening up this experiment to the public as a physical show case of training of WWI soldiers.