b.1897 – d.1917
Flight Commander Captain Albert Ball - VC, DSO and two bars, MC, Croix de Guerre, Legion d'Honneur, Order of St George for Russia and Honorary Freeman of the City of Nottingham.
Ball was Britain's first Flying Ace and received the first VC to be awarded to a pilot of the Royal Flying Corps - it was awarded postumously.
He is credited with shooting down 43 German planes and one balloon in just fifteen months. Sadly he died on 7th May 1917, aged just 20 years old. He was reputedly shot down by Lothar von Richthofen, the brother of the infamous German Flying Ace, the Red Baron. He is buried in the German War Cemetery at Annoeullin, France.
The cross from his grave in France hangs high up on the west wall of the Trent College Chapel and his propeller can be seen hanging in the Devonshire Library.
On Monday 24 February 2014, the BBC1 East Midlands 'Inside Out' programme launched its WWI centenary celebration with a programme which featured Captain Ball. This respectable piece included many photographs of Ball and even old film of him, with a look back in time honouring this WWI fighter pilot hero. Please click here to view this programme.
A Tribute to Captain Albert Ball VC
By Will Moon (Shuker 2006-2013, Head of School 2012-2013)
On Thursday 28th March 2013, Will Moon addressed the whole school with his end of term speech. An inspirational message .......
We are only 100 days away from speech day, and we as a school have a lot to do: we have sport fixtures to play, exams to nail and other goals to fulfil before we say goodbye to Trent; some of us say goodbye until next September, and for others we sadly say goodbye to Trent forever as its students, becoming Old Tridents.
Exactly 100 years ago, there was another student that waved such a farewell to Trent. His name was Albert Ball. He was an eager and determined character, good-looking with thick dark hair, described also as friendly and good-tempered.
Albert joined Trent with his younger brother Cyril in 1911 at the age of 15. After settling into the strict regime of compulsory cold baths every morning and cross-country runs, he always went in pursuit of activities which enabled him to exploit his exceptional coordination of hand, eye and brain. This included woodwork and metalwork, the hobby leading him to constructing a boat which he sailed home via the river and canal to Nottingham. He also played the violin, and additionally enjoyed the Officer Training Corps here at Trent.
Albert was excited about life beyond school, and in a letter home to his mother wrote: ‘I am anxious to know what I shall be when I leave.’ He wanted to make money, he told her, and also ‘to bring out the best’ in himself.
At the end of summer 1913, Albert left Trent just after his 17th birthday, and found the kind of employment he had hoped for in the Universal Engineering Works, a company that made electrical equipment and did some brass-founding. As he increased his skills, he looked forward to making a career in business – but scarcely a year later hostilities broke out in Europe, and he, with his burning sense of duty, was one of the first to answer the call for volunteers.
On 1 September 1914 he enlisted as a private in the 2/7th Battalion, the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment, better known as the Sherwood Foresters or, colloquially, as the Robin Hoods. Because he had been a member of the Officer Training Corps at school, he was promoted within days to the rank of sergeant, and at the end of October he received his commission as second lieutenant.
He took part in weapon-training, route-marches, field days and so on enthusiastically enough; but, along with most of his contemporaries, he yearned to be posted to the front in France. In March he received orders to join the Reserve, but still no posting came for him. However, it was in June that he was posted to a platoon commander’s training corps at Perivale, just north-west of London, and found that Hendon aerodrome lay only 4 miles away.
He then turned his thoughts towards flying, not only because it thought that it would be exciting, but because he hoped that if he became a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, he might reach the front in France much quicker. After he had completed many flying courses and practiced his manoeuvres regularly, he finally achieved his ambition, being posted to No. 13 Squadron in France on 17 February 1916.
Ball fought numerous battles in the air in his Nieuport Scout, which was a bi-plane (an aircraft with two wings interconnected with triangular beams). Ball’s invincible courage and his utter determination made him a legend not only in Britain but also amongst his enemies. At times he would fight groups of German aircraft by himself, breaking up formations by means of reckless, head-on approaches, and then hunting down individuals by the sheer brilliance of his flying and his daring, innovative method of attack.
His favourite tactic was dropping down behind an enemy, coming up from below, out of the pilot’s sight, and easing in to amazingly close quarters (often no more than 15 yards) before firing at the belly of the hostile aircraft with machine-gun bursts. It was his individuality and insistence on fighting alone which set him apart from other pilots.
Albert Ball rose from obscurity to the top rank of a fighter pilot in only 15 months. In that period, Captain Albert Ball was awarded the Military Cross, the Distinguished Service Order award, two Military Bars for the successful completion of military operations, and finally, he received the highest military decoration award for outstanding bravery and valour, the Victoria Cross.
Here in this frame I hold the replica of that medal, which you can have a look at on the wall in the Fenn.
Very sadly, on 7 May 1917 aged only 20, Ball literally took a turn for the worst, and disappeared when flying back to base in bad weather, supposedly emerging upside down from a great cloud and colliding into the side of a cliff in France. The Victoria Cross was posthumously awarded to him in 1918, as the result of his incredible 44 victories in the air.
I think it’s worth remembering that Captain Albert Ball is not a figure of fantasy. He was very much real, and was very much a part of the Trent community like we are. He walked the same corridors, sang the same hymns in chapel and listened to similar speeches in assemblies like you are today, and whenever you’re in the library, look up at Captain Albert Ball’s propeller to remind you of this.
The quality which led Ball to becoming such a national figure and widely celebrated flying ace of all time was down to his sheer grit and determination. His proactive and youthful, resilient passion to discover what he loved finally paid off, and when he did find his appetite for flying, he strived to be the best that he could be and succeeded.