Tag Archives: Nottingham Castle

Albert Ball, the naughty hero

Today marks the 100th anniversary of that enigmatic character, Albert Ball. Nowadays, perhaps, Albert Ball is pretty much a forgotten name. He was, however, one of the greatest air aces of the Great War:

Ball photo

Albert was a natural fighter pilot, and initially, he always flew French Nieuport fighters (with a top speed of 110 m.p.h.):

This is a painting  of Albert’s very own Nieuport:

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As well as the French fighter though, the English S.E.5 with its top speed of 138 m.p.h. was to hold a huge place in Albert’s affections in the latter period of his career:

Unlike many of his colleagues in the Royal Flying Corps, Albert gained widespread public fame for his achievements. In general, unlike the French or the Germans, the British did not use their aces for propaganda purposes, but Albert was the first brilliant exception. Almost like a medieval knight of the air, Albert shot down 44 enemy aircraft. In today’s world he would have been, quite simply, a superstar.

Albert was genuinely fearless, and the war weary English public of 1917 loved the way he flew alone, like a Knight of the Round Table, and always attacked the enemy aircraft, irrespective of the odds against him.  His favourite prey was the German Roland C.II, the so-called “Walfisch”:

Most of Albert’s victories came by attacking enemy aircraft from below, with his Lewis machine gun tilted upwards. It was very dangerous but, like the Schräge Musik cannons of a later conflict, was remarkably successful.

Flying without any other aircraft to support him, Albert was always going to be vulnerable, and he was finally killed out on patrol on May 7th 1917, shortly before his twenty-first birthday. For this last combat, Albert was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, to add to his Military Cross, Distinguished Service Order, Distinguished Flying Cross, Légion d’Honneur, Croix de Chevalier, Russian Order of St George and the American Medal.

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These medals can still be seen inside Nottingham Castle. Outside, in the gardens, is his statue:

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His battered uniform has been carefully preserved:

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And so has his shattered windscreen:

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On a more scurrilous note, Albert was always one for the ladies and every photograph of the dashing hero seems to have him with a different young lady in tow. In some of his biographies he is credited with having left an unknown, but relatively sizeable, number of the young ladies of Nottingham in, shall we say, a very interesting state.  Indeed, it would be interesting to know if anybody nowadays claims kinship with this dashing young man.

Albert was born on August 14th 1896 at the family home at 301, Lenton Boulevard (now 245 Castle Boulevard), Nottingham. He was the third child, and elder son, of Albert Ball and his wife, née Harriet Mary Page. A few years afterwards the family moved to Sedgley House, 43 Lenton Avenue, The Park, Nottingham, where they lived in a moderately wealthy fashion:

sedgly avenue xxxxxxx

Albert had a brother Cyril and a sister Lois. Their parents were always “loving and indulgent”. Albert Ball Senior had originally been a plumber, but he was an ambitious man and became an estate agent, and then a property speculator, as his fortunes improved. He was to be elected Mayor of Nottingham in 1909, 1910, 1920 and 1935.
As a boy, Albert was interested in engines and electrics. He had experience with firearms and enjoyed target practice in the garden. Thanks to his wonderful eyesight, he was soon a crack shot. On his sixteenth birthday, Albert spent a lovely day as a steeplejack, as he accompanied workmen to the top of a tall factory chimney. He was completely unafraid and strolled around, not bothered in the slightest by the height:

steeplejack1

Albert’s education began at the Lenton Church School. He then moved, along with his younger brother Cyril, to Grantham Grammar School, which had a military tradition that stretched way back into the Napoleonic times of the early 19th century, well before the establishment of other schools’ Officer Training Corps, or Combined Cadet Forces.

Albert moved to Nottingham High School on Thursday, September 19th 1907 at the age of eleven, as boy number 2651. According to the school register, he was born on August 17th 1896, although on his birth certificate, the date is certainly given as August 14th. Later in life, Albert was to countersign a certificate from the Royal Aero Club on which his date of birth was written as August 21st. His father is listed in the High School register as Albert Ball, a land agent of 43, Lenton Road, Nottingham.

Albert did not last a particularly long time at his new school, as he was to be expelled for bad behaviour in 1910. Contemporary sources reveal that Ball particularly enjoyed misbehaving in music lessons:

“The Third Form music master was a Mr Dunhill, who had one eye which was straight, but the other looked outwards at an angle, rather like half past ten on a clock. Boys always used to make fun of him. Whenever he shouted “Stand up you ! ! ! ” and looked at a certain naughty boy, four others would get up elsewhere in the room. “NO !  NO !  NOT YOU !! …YOU ! ! ” The original four would then sit down, and another four completely unrelated boys would stand up elsewhere in the room.
Albert Ball specialised in misbehaviour during these singing classes. He and his brother would invariably “kick up a terrible row”, and were then sent out of the room.”

at trent college

According to one Old Boy from just a few years later, however, Albert’s actual expulsion came from:

“an incident which took place at morning prayers. Ball took in with him a huge bag full of boiled sweets. At one point it was allowed to burst, and hundreds and hundreds of sweets were all dropped onto the floor. The whole school assembly then became one seething mass of boys, all scrabbling about on the floor, “heads down and bottoms up, completely out of control ”, trying to pick up as many sweets as they possibly could.”

That did not necessarily mean, however, that Albert misbehaved with every single teacher. The Chief History master, C.Lloyd Morgan, was to recollect in later years:

“I think I taught Albert Ball but can’t recollect him.”

Albert moved next to Trent College, where he was a boarder. He was only an average student, but he possessed great curiosity for everything mechanical. His favourite lessons were therefore carpentry, model making, playing the violin and photography. He was also a member of the Officer Training Corps:

armoury door trent college

Albert eventually left Trent College at Midsummer 1913. His stay there seems to have been for the most part relatively happy, although it was not always a totally enjoyable experience, by any means. On at least one occasion, for example, the unhappy young Albert is supposed to have run away to sea, and he was only apprehended at the very last moment:

“covered in coal dust, in the engine room of an outgoing steamer”.

Whatever Naughty Albert’s long forgotten negatives, though, there is something genuinely cool about being featured on your very own stamp. As far as I know, Albert is the only Old Boy of the High School to have achieved this:

Albert_Ball_stamp zzzz

During his career, Albert secured 44 victories over enemy aircraft with a further 2 unconfirmed.  Nobody can fight alone for ever, though. After just 13 or 14 months of combat flying, Albert was killed.

The end came 100 years ago to this very day. I have tried to schedule the appearance of this post so that it is published to celebrate this anniversary.  There is no clear indication of what happened in his last combat although four German officers on the ground all saw his SE5 emerge from low cloud, upside down, and trailing a thin plume of oily smoke. Its engine was stopped and the plane crashed close to a farm called Fashoda near the village of Annoeullin. Albert was still alive and he was removed from the wreckage by Mademoiselle Cécile Deloffre. As she cradled him in her arms Albert opened his eyes once and then died. His death was later found to be due to his injuries in the crash. He had not been wounded.  The chivalrous Germans gave Albert a funeral with full military honours on May 9th. The original white cross with which they marked his grave, No.999, is still kept in the chapel at Trent College.

Albert’s father, Sir Albert Ball, was eventually to become Lord Mayor of Nottingham. After his son’s death, he bought the land where the crash had occurred. When he died in 1946 he bequeathed it to the inhabitants of the village to farm and to keep the memorial in good condition:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, History, Nottingham, The High School

Home is the sailor, home from the sea, And the hunter home from the hill

When we were first married, my wife and I bought a house in the Meadows area of Nottingham. This was traditionally a place of slums, crime and general unpleasantness, but at the time, the early 1980s, huge numbers of unhealthy hovels were being demolished to be replaced by newly built, better quality, council houses, as they were then called. Mixed in with all the rented accommodation though, was a small estate of private houses, and we bought one of those. When we first moved in, we were surrounded by a vast building site:

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In the background is Nottingham Castle, which has very little remaining from the medieval period and dates mostly from the 1670s. It is perhaps most famous for being the trademark on Players Cigarettes:

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And now, it must be nine minutes past four and the teaching day is ended and I have driven home at top speed:

“Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.”

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I used to have an old 1964 Hillman Minx De Luxe, with the registration plate BLT 141B. It was my first car, and I loved it dearly. I wish I could have it back again. It had previously belonged to my Dad, Fred, who loved it even more than I did. When the seventeen-year-old car failed its last roadworthiness test, he was so glad that I took the trouble to drive it, fairly illegally, the 35 miles to his house, just so that he could then drive it himself on its last ever journey down to the scrapyard.
This beautiful blue car was “the one” as far as Fred’s motoring career was concerned. One day in 1966, he took me with him to nearby Derby and we visited Peveril Garage, on Friar Gate, up near the headquarters of the Derby County Supporters’ Club:

dcfc
Fred told me not to mention anything whatsoever about the day to my mother, not under any circumstances. Without any consultation with her at all, therefore, he bought this marvellous car, which was priced at £510. In those days, that was a princely sum indeed. If truth be told, it was actually a total sufficiently royal, that when my mother did eventually find out what he had done, she would have had Fred beheaded if she could have organised it.

The car was a rich blue, half way between sky blue and navy blue, with a black side stripe picked out in metallic chrome. In later years, when he had problems with rust on one of the wings, Fred was to opt for a total re-spray, which allowed him to retain the same colour blue for the body, but to incorporate a black roof which added that extra, unique, little detail to his beloved car:

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At this time, I had only recently passed my driving test, so, while I waited for the green “Provisional” plates to be invented, I retained my Learner plates, with the Big Red Ell on them. That was enough to be pulled over by a young policeman, apparently tired of arresting burglars, drug dealers, terrorists, murderers and bank robbers. Still, no hard feelings.
And here I am, looking like the man who designs the stage costumes for a 1970s pop group:

photo 2

I am wearing my favourite wide lapel purple jacket which had a wonderful Polyester feel to it. My shirt was short sleeved and chequered in pink and white. My extra wide tie was scarlet, and again, made of Polyester for easy cleaning. My glasses were gold-rimmed and my hair was a deep delicious dark brown without the slightest trace of grey:

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I had probably been wearing a pair of trousers throughout my day as a teacher, but they are not visible in this photograph. They may well have been my favourite pair ever, which were generously flared and mid-grey with an emphatic large black check design all over them. This created a whole series of huge squares perhaps four or five inches in size. I eventually gave these show stealers to a charity for the homeless in Africa. I often wonder who got them and what he made of them. Conceivably, some kind of shelter.

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Filed under Criminology, History, Humour, My House, Nottingham, Personal