Last week I got the news that corona19 has claimed Earl Fuller. Here are a few words in tribute to a Black British champion. 

I first heard about Earl in 2018. The Mercian Regimental Museum enabled me to conduct oral testimony research with three former Sergeant Majors of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment: present-day contributors to a 300-year history of Black soldiers in the regiment, dating from 1759. The interviews revealed outstanding achievers: who joined the army of 1980s Britain as adolescents; built achievement on achievement, earning respect and challenging attitudes along the way. They all spoke warmly of a pioneer who inspired them, Earl Fuller – the Regiment’s first Black Drum Major. 

Earl Fuller was born in Kingston Jamaica in 1959, and migrated to Britain, aged 10. His distinguished army career began in 1975 as a Junior Soldier. Milestone followed milestone: joining the regiment’s elite Corps of Drummers; promotions; recognition of his quality, a spotlight that earned him a highly symbolic career high in 1985 – joining HMS Nottingham as a ceremonial drummer/bugler escorting the Queen’s Commonwealth tour of the Caribbean. Seen through the lens of Black History, Earl wins my award for another achievement – for me he is a Black British champion, who shaped attitudes within the forces; among countless dignitaries and officials; and the public at large – in the UK and around the globe.

I never met Earl. But my oral testimony interviews with his former army comrades left a powerful sense that he had inspired them and so many others. Along with his many comrades and friends, I send his family my deepest condolences.