While scanning through the web a few weeks back another March 25th story came to my attention. A year ago on this date it was the 95th year since Walter Tull died. You no doubt will not know his name, but perhaps we should all reflect on his contributions to the war effort in WW 1, and to the British Empire itself.
Walter was a black man. He was the first black to play professional football in his area, and soon after going off to war he would earn not one or two or three...but four rapid promotions because of his bravery and further qualifications in uniform. In 1917, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. That very commissioning made him the FIRST EVER BLACK commissioned officer in the British Army. He'd been in several major battles by them, earned a Mentions in Dispatch and also would be the first black officer to lead men into battle..and even bring them all back after the attack. Then came the Somme and a machine gun burst that took his life. There never found his body.
He was then recommended for the Military Cross but never got it!
Years would go by and efforts were made to get him his Militray Cross. On the 95th anniversary of his battlefield death, efforts were still ongoin last year on 25 March, as they are today. Word came down that the Minster of Defence indicated that as the rules stood, a posthumous award could not be awarded more than five years after the event. Today on the net I see that another excuse has popped up. While it is OK for the Brits to take pride in the fact that Tull was their first ever black officer, they apparently felt that the rules of the game should sometimes apply. One of these was a military law back in those days that said that if you were a British Citizen of non-European descent, you cannot hold a commission in the British services at all.
But nothing was said about reversing his rank. Hmmmm!
Last week I wrote a letter to the MP for his area in London suggesting that the rules based on time lines can be changed by his colleagues in the Parliament. I suggested that he visit the situation in the US where there have been repeated cases over the years where time lines have been set aside, cases even going back to Civil War days. Some even involving British Subjects, that got their Medals of Honor once the US Congress considered the merits, found them valid, and changed either the law or passed a special Act to cover the fellow in question.
l also said that since the Tull case has been suggested by many to be one that was based on a conflict with a superior over his race, that lawmakers also might pay some attention to the fact that the President in the US just reversed 24 cases of prejudice and awarded Medals of Honor just a few weeks back. I added that surely THE PARLIAMENT of all parliaments , the very Jewel of British Democracy should take steps to lead rather then follow and take the necessary steps to sort out the Tull case and give the posthumous award if it is felt the merits of this 1918 case is deserving.
My email has been acknowledged with a form letter saying thanks for the note and I'll try and get back to you soon. I'll wait. In the mean time here is a photo of the British Army's first ever Black officer, and MC awardee in waiting... hopefully.
Hollywood is not history. Hollywood is entertainment. But when you look back at movies... take for example the several volume series about the Civil War, you may want to believe that these volumes are the be all, and end all, of the events pertained therein. And often this is in fact... quite the opposite. But years later who will remember over one hundred Canadians who were signed up with Colonel Chamberlain's 20th Maine for sake of argument, when all they have often to go by is the movie they saw last week or month. A movie that did not even contain the word Canada or Canadians.
The same applies to the movie of over a decade ago about the 54th Massachusssetts. A great movie, called GLORY, but it forgot one thing. In amongst all those heroes were no less than 30 plus black Canadians, but you heard not a word of those while you watched it. Nor was the word mentioned when you watched the Gods and Generals. Nor was there any real prominence given to the incredible role that Canadians played in the story many of us saw recently, and still playing about the Monuments Men.
Heck, it took the former President, Jimmy Carter to come forth in a CNN interview about the recent showing of ARGO about the horrible Iran crisis of many years back. The movie was Hollywood hype and gave most of the credit for the saving of the 6 American hostages that were spirited out of Iran by Canada. Carter acknowledged that the movie hype took most of the credit when clearly, it was due to then Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor's actions and those of the men and women with him at the embassy there, in Ottawa and elsewhere that pulled that heroic mission off. They risked their lives to save the Americans but a careful study of the movie has them playing 2nd fiddle to the Ben Aflick's character. A character indeed.
This brings me to the point again about March 25th. That was the day that the Great Escape of WW11 in Germany came to an end and was later made famous by more Hollywood hype in 1963 with many of the stars of the day, mainly American, telling a mostly non American story.
The story has more life in the news over the past week and I will share this with you in the next blog.