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A British stamp depicting Captain Albert Ball

Albert Ball: Biography

Image Credit: bissig / | Above: A British stamp depicting Captain Albert Ball, on the 150th anniversary of Victoria Cross

Captain Albert Ball was Britain's highest scoring profile fighter pilot during the First World War.

Albert Ball was born on 14 August 1896 in Nottingham to successful businessman Albert Ball, who went on to be knighted, and Harriett Mary Page. Albert had a brother and sister and enjoyed a happy childhood as both his parents were loving and indulgent.

In his youth, Ball had a small hut where he tinkered with engines and electrical equipment. He also developed a good knowledge of firearms and often shot at targets. Ball had keen vision and quickly became a crack shot. He studied at Lenton Church School, Grantham Grammar School and Nottingham School before moving to Trent College in 1911. At the age of 17, he left school and his father helped him set up his own mechanical business Universal Engineering Works next to his family home in 1913.

He joined the army upon the outbreak of war in August 1914, receiving a commission into the Sherwood Foresters. By October that year, he had been promoted to sergeant and was then promoted to Second-Lieutenant the same month. He was so desperate to get to the that he transferred to the North Midland Divisional Cyclist Company but he remained in England throughout 1915. Ball used this to his advantage, however, as he paid for private tuition and trained as a pilot at Hendon's Ruffy-Baumann School in July that year.

On 15 October 1915, he obtained his Royal Aero Club Certificate and requested a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. This was granted and after further training at Norwich and Upavon, Ball was awarded the pilot's beret on 22 January 1916.

He quickly established himself as an ace of great daring. Rapidly proving himself a natural fighter pilot - invariably flying French Nieuports, which he constantly tweaked in seek of improved manoeuvrability - Ball gained widespread public renown for his achievements in the air war.

He shot down 43 enemy planes and one balloon. He also contributed greatly to British air supremacy at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

On 7 May 1917 11 British aircraft from 56 Squadron, including Albert Ball's, encountered German fighters near Douai in France. A running battle was fought in deteriorating visibility, and the aircraft became scattered. Both Ball and the famous German ace, Lothar von Richthofen, crashed. Ball was killed, but von Richthofen survived and was credited by the Germans with shooting Ball down.

There is however some doubt as to exactly what happened. German propaganda of the time made great play of German aerial aces, and von Richthofen may even have been ordered to make the claim. It is possible that Ball was not shot down at all, but became disoriented and lost control.

Albert Ball, who was only 20-years-old at the time, was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously on 8 June 1917. He was also honoured by the French who named him a Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur. His parents collected his Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery, from King George V on 22 July 1917.

Ball has been remembered for his bravery in Nottingham with a monument and statute in the grounds of Nottingham Castle. It was commissioned by the city council and funded by public subscriptions. It consists of a bronze group on a carved pedestal and was created by Henry Moore. One of the figures on the statue is Ball with an allegorical female figure at his shoulder.

In further remembrance of his son Albert Ball Sr commissioned the building of the Albert Ball Memorial Homes in Lenton to house the families of local servicemen killed in action. They were opened on 7 September 1922.