Albert Ball – Nottingham's WW1 Ace Fighter Pilot (24-9-17)
On Tuesday evening, September 19th, the Heritage Group Committee welcomed Mr. Peter Hammond to the Memorial Hall to give his talk on that famous son of Nottingham, Albert Ball.
More than 30 people came to listen to the talk, and it was especially pleasing that two descendants from Albert Ball`s family were also present in the audience. Vincent Armstrong and Vanda Day are Albert's great nephew and great niece respectively.
Although it is true to say that we all know something about Albert Ball, Peter Hammond gave a comprehensive account of his early life, his developing interest and involvement in flying, and his many valiant deeds during the WW1 conflict. Peter also threw in a number of observations of Albert`s personal life, including his relationships with several members of the opposite sex!
Albert`s story was told through the many letters he wrote, mostly to his father but also to his girlfriends at the time. Peter took us through this correspondence which began when he was a schoolboy, particularly when he was a boarder at Trent College. As a student he displayed only average ability, while his main interests lay in more practical pursuits such as engineering.
Following the outbreak of the First World War, Albert, aged 17, enlisted in the British Army and in his keenness to get into the action soon transferred to the North Midlands Cyclists Company. This, however, did not satisfy his thirst for real adventure over in France, and he began to take private flying lessons at Hendon Aerodrome. After some months of somewhat variable progress he finally gained his transfer to the Royal Flying Corps and became a fully-fledged pilot.
It was from this point that his skill as a fighter pilot really blossomed. In his career he flew a variety of planes, and although he liked some more than others, he achieved consistent success in combat.
Peter gave us an account of many of Albert`s missions and contact with the enemy, and although there were a number of occasions when he only just managed to limp home in badly-damaged aircraft, it was clear from his continued correspondence that he was still enjoying the action. Words such as 'ripping' and 'topping' occurred frequently in his letters home!
In the meantime, honours and tributes to his skills and achievement continued to accumulate, and in 1917 he was made an Honorary Freeman of Nottingham. In his military career promotions also followed until he received the title of Captain. It was around this time that on one of his spells of leave he met an 18-year old Flora Young and within a few months they became engaged. However, it was beginning to be clear that Albert was wearying of war, and in his last letter to his father he described himself as 'feeling like a murderer'.
It was also in May 1917 that Albert's luck finally ran out. He and his squadron encountered a number of German fighter planes near Douai. In the ensuing dogfight Albert's plane was last seen falling upside down towards the ground in a pall of black smoke. When he was found by the Germans he was badly injured and already dead
Albert Ball was buried not far from where he fell, alongside other German casualties. l The Germans erected a cross over his grave in Annoeullin Cemetery, near Lille, as their tribute to this courageous pilot.
Back in England, he was posthumously awarded a VC to add to his DSO's. Other tributes soon followed, and to this day a monument to Albert Ball can be seen in the grounds of Nottingham Castle.
Peter Hammond's talk was both entertaining and informative, richly illustrated by the letters from his personal collection, and it is thanks to him that his audience left having learned a great deal more about one of Nottingham's most famous sons.