Albert Ball VC

Where Albert Ball's plane reportedly crash landed

Eyewitness account of the WW1 flying ace's crash in Nottingham

 In 1972 a piece of broken WWI propeller blade, owned by a Mr. Ash of Nottingham, was displayed in the city as a relic of a crashed aeroplane flown by Nottingham's own air VC, Captain Albert Ball.

Albert Ball died flying above Arras in 1917 by which time he had shot down no fewer than 43 German planes.  He was posthumously awarded the VC and enrolled by the French as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

On a social flight to his hometown of Nottingham in 1916, however, he nearly never made it back to the front

Here is Mr Ash's own account of how he came to possess a remarkable memorial of Nottingham's 'Ace of the Air':-

"One Saturday morning in late November 1916, I was walking with my father, Mr. C. Ash (who at that time was a forester for Lord Middleton on his Wollaton estate).  We were about at the northern end of Woodyard Lane, somewhere about its present junction with Hollington Road.  We heard an aeroplane engine and then saw a small plane approaching from the south at very low altitude.  He crossed the railway and made a sharp turn to the west, skimmed the hedge of a ploughed field and landed.

 'Capt. Ball, isn't it?... Can I have a piece of your aeroplane as a remembrance of you?'                      'You can have the lot for all I care'. 

"Father then asked:  'Can I have a piece of your aeroplane as a remembrance of you?' and the Captain replied:  'You can have the lot for all I care'.  Father picked up a piece of the plane's propeller, which had been smashed in the crash and it has been in the family ever since".

 

The propeller - when examined in 1972 - was identified as coming from a Bristol Scout single-seater aircraft.

 

Mr Ted Griffin, of Wollaton in Nottingham, corroborated Mr Ash's reminiscences in 1972, citing the exact spot where the machine came to rest - about 100 yards north of Hollington Road, opposite the end Of Felstead Road.

He also saw the plane turn over on its back and Capt. Ball crawl out from the cockpit.

 

It would appear that the crash was occasioned by Ball flying up to Nottingham to visit his parents.  This occurred during a period of leave from the Front when he returned to the UK.  He would then have flown from an airbase 'somewhere else in England' - either officially or unofficially - to land at a convenient area of open ground in Nottingham - hence Wollaton park.

 

ALBERT BALL'S WHEREABOUTS IN NOVEMBER 1916

Mr Ash gives the date of the episode as November 1916.  In his book "Albert Ball VC", Chaz Bowyer (Clwyd: Bridge Books, 1977; Reprint 1994) notes (p.94) that October 1st 1916 was Ball's "final day of combat for the year", and that on October 4th, after a farewell party in the Mess, he "started his journey by road, rail and ship to England".  He arrived in Nottingham on the morning of 5th October and was driven by his sister to the family home at Sedgley House in The Park area of Nottingham.  As a prominent local hero, Ball was front page news, and his homecoming was recoded and illustrated in all the local (and some national) papers.

 

On 18th October Ball went to Orfordness on the east coast as a fighting instructor with 34 (Reserve) Squadron.  Here he was instructing on Bristol Scout aircraft (Bowyer p.99) - of the kind Mr Ash reports seeing crash in Wollaton Park

 His next posting - albeit short-lived - on 7th November was to the RFC School of Aerial Gunnery at Hythe, where, after some instruction in the workings of Vickers machine guns and Lewis guns, he was also retained as an instructor.

Such mundane, undemanding work, however, did not inspire Ball, and having originally transferred to the RFC for the single purpose of fighting Germans in the air, he began a 'campaign' directed at those in higher authority to permit him to return to France. (Bowyer p.101)

Initially he met with rebuffs, but nevertheless continued with his campaign.  On November 18th he was at Buckingham Palace to receive his DSO and 2 bars and a Military Cross from King George V, and on the following day (19th November) he was at the Albert Hall in Nottingham as the guest of honour at a large formal gathering of civic dignitaries.

On 23rd November he was detached for the day to the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough (Bowyer p.103).

The next date mentioned by Bowyer is 2nd January 1917 when, with his campaign to return to France still not realised, Ball reported to 7 Wing RFC at King's Lynn for a further instructional post. 

 

OTHER ACCOUNTS

The first account of Albert Ball's life and wartime heroics was actually published at the very end of the war in in 1918.  This book, "Captain Ball VC" by Walter A. Briscoe and H. Russell Stannard does not mention the Nottingham accident.  In the most recent account of Ball's career, however, (Colin Pengley's "Albert ball VC: The Fighter Plot hero of World War I"(Pen & Sword 2010, p.138) the incident is recounted as follows:-

"It must have been while he [Ball] was stationed at Orfordness* that he made a flight in the Nottingham area, a flight which ended unfortunately for him.  A gamekeeper and his son were walking in some woods on Lord Middleton's estste.  Their peace was disturbed by the sound of an aircraft going overhead.  As the two watched the plane descended sharply towards the ground across the other side f a ploughed field.  They raced over to the site of the crash to find the pilot standing by the side of the wreckage.  The father recognised the pilot 'Is that you young Mr Albert?' To which Ball answered sharply that he was.  The father asked if he might keep a piece of the wreckage as a memento, to which Ball replied, 'you can have the whole bloody lot!'  The gamkeeper contented himself to a broken part of the propeller blade". 

 

* Thereby dating the incident to October 1916, rather than November

 

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