Long march of the black British soldier

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The Army says it has come a long way since minority recruits were weeded out, but has Prince Harry's 'Paki' remark uncovered a less palatable truth?

They were known as "D Factor personnel". For 20 years, the British Army restricted the number of ethnic minority recruits to its ranks by instructing its medical officers to use the secret designation to single out would-be soldiers with "Asiatic or negroid features".

It was a policy which might have belonged to the 19th century or the First World War, but in reality it only ended in 1977 when medical examiners were told to stop classifying recruits according to physical characteristics which included looking like "Chinamen, Maltese or even swarthy Frenchmen".

Racial prejudice blighted the achievements of Second Lieutenant Walter Tull, who volunteered for the British Army a week after the declaration of war in 1914 and was recommended for the Military Cross by his superiors for his "gallantry and coolness under fire". The son of a former slave in Barbados, 2nd Lt Tull never received his award because military law forbade "any negro or person of colour" being commissioned and the medal seemed a step too far.

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