Concluding our series on the private letters of Albert Ball, VC, JOHN HOLT tells the story of the last days in the short life of Nottingham's First World War flying hero
THE final nine months in the life of Albert Ball bordered on Hollywood fantasy. After his bravery in the spy episode reversed the rather unfair 'demotion" ordered by General Higgins. he was allowed "home" to II Squadron at
and that meant flying without passengers once again and, perhaps more importantly to him, returning to his cherished aerodrome garden.
He was SOOD back in action as he told his parents on August 25, 1916:
"Really I am having too much luck for a boy I was met by about 14 huns about 15 miles over their side. My windscreen was hit in four places, mirror broken, the spar of the left plane broken also the engine ran out of petrol.
"I was brought down one mile over our .side. .slept near the machine and had it repaired during the night. The general sent for me --- he said in fun 'I am putting your name on a big board in the trenches in order to frighten the huns.' So much for the General for 1 am now in his good books again. "
Albert then reported for duty with 60 Squadron at lzel Ie Hameau where the commanding officer soon spotted his true worth, giving him the freedom to fly solo whenever he wanted, The star pilot repaid the faith shown in him by downing four enemy aircraft in four days.
September proved to be a memorable month, He was acclaimed by a French major as the best allied fighter pilot, was awarded a DSO and a bar within a couple of days as well as the Order of St George,
promoted to flight commander and granted leave which, it appears, went a lot more smoothly than his previous return home.
Back in action in France, Albert continued to fly like a man possessed only displaying his true feelings in a letter home in which he wrote:
"I feel sorry for the chaps I have killed. Just imagine what their poor people must feel like. I must have sent at least 40 chaps to their death however it must be done or they would kill me, Would they not?"
The strain was obviously beginning to tell once again and, with his total of "victories" standing at around 30, the RFC's most valued pilot heard he was being sent home, primarily on leave and then for a posting in the Home Establishment. It appeared that he had killed for the last time.
By this time, he was a local hero and his homecoming soon turned into a nightmare for the modest young man who hated talking about his "work" as Nottinghamians queued up to congratulate their favourite son.
On October 20, he reported to the War Office where he was told that he was to train pilots for action. The top brass also told him that on no occasion was he to give into temptation and have a potshot at a passing zeppelin.
He also used his time to continue designing his own single seater plane, the plans of which he had "acquired" the previous April. The plane was to be made by the Austin Motor Company of which, thanks to his father who was a director. Albert was a shareholder.
ALBERT didn't live long enough to see the prototype of the Austin Ball machine take to the air. He was also approached around this time by a businessman who offered him a staggering £ 1,000 to lend his name and prestige to a large company. Albert received the cheque but said he could not be of any use until his war was definitely over.
He continued to be feted for his achievements, however. He wrote, again with characteristic bluntness and modesty, that he had had "breakfast with Lloyd George and his daughter. It was very nice".
By and large, though, Albert was bored and applied to the military to be given the chance to go back to France and have another "smack".
Irritated by his attempts to use his father's influence for a swift return, they merely posted him to the school of aerial gunnery at Hythe in Kent where he was to learn gun techniques and then pass them on to fledgling pilots.
He was not best pleased.
"Of all the fools games. Not only shall I pass away if I don't get a different job soon but 1 really cannot think why they are such fools, .. he told his father.
Even though he had become the first British army officer to have been awarded three DSOs and an MC, his concerted attempts to get back to the Front fell on deaf ears.
There was more embarrassment in November when he was presented with his medals by the King at Buckingham Palace and Nottingham City Council proposed to make him a Freeman of his home city.
"Simply dreading the freedom affair and really if 1 only had myself to please 1 should not be within 200 miles of Nottingham on the day, " he told his parents.
Throughout the winter, Albert became more and more desperate to get back to France and, eventually, he decided to finally cash in on a bit of his fame and enlisted newspaper baron Lord Northcliffe to his cause.
That did the trick. A week after receiving the Freedom of the City, Albert reported for duty with 56 Squadron in Hertfordshire, ready for action with a new plane, the SE5.
Colney March 22.
"I am afraid we shall all get a hotting up this time. The Hun RFC is far ahead of us this time in fact, about 30mph. I do wish I had got a Nieuport as the SE5 has turned out a dud.
"But I am getting one ready. I am taking one gun off in order to take off weight, and lowering windscreen to take off head resistance, I hope that I shall get a little better speed but it is a rotten machine. I am afraid things will go not very OK. "
Albert had time for one more alteration - this time to his private life - before 56 Squadron flew to France.
as an afterthought, he wrote:
'Have been awarded DSO'
In March 1917, he fell hook. line and sinker for 18-year-old Flora Young whom he met on an airfield. Within minutes of seeing her. he had persuaded her to fly with him, Within a matter of days. he had told her - without any formal engagement --- that they would marry when he returned home.
With time running out, the pair spent every spare moment together and exchanged gifts and letters.
"I'm more than pleased to have met you for I had waited so long and have had so many disappointments. Hope that is all over now and that you will bring me good luck on my next run in France. "
They didn't see each other again,
Arriving at Vert Galand in France in April. however. Albert was soon asking his father to pull a few strings again.
"A job for you, They have put me in this SE5 and simply will not let me get back on a Nieuport. I must get back as soon as possible or I won't be able to do my job. "
Three days later. he got the plane he wanted and was soon back in the old routine. destroying two German planes on April 22 and reporting. with sadness. the loss of five close friends.
Six days later, he described how he had been congratulated by the General for bringing his plane back even though all the controls had been shot away. His modesty knew no bounds as eyewitness accounts of that particular exchange describe how, with no control over his plane, Albert managed to land it by manually adjusting his tail plane and only made it home safely by crawling along the body of the machine and leaping to safety before it hit the ground.
Despite the appalling conditions. Albert let his emotions get the better of him when he wrote to Flora to ask if he had any cause to be jealous of a Captain Johnson she mentioned in her letters. [Flora replied that she had told the captain where he stood].
And, to his parents, he wrote on May 5:
"Brought down but am quite OK. It was a good fight and the Huns were fine sports. One tried to ram me after he was hit and only missed by inches. Am indeed looked after by God but oh I do get tired of always living to kill and am really beginning to feel like a murderer. I shall be so pleased when I have finished. Don't work too hard dad for it will be so rotten when I come home if you can't share my happiness."
IT WAS his last letter. Two days later, Albert's plane came down in circumstances that have still not been properly explained. The Germans claimed that he was a victim of Lothar, von Richtofen, the brother of the famous Red Baron. Another theory is that Albert, who never knew when to give up on a fight, simply went on too long and his plane crashed.
The Germans gave Albert Ball a funeral with full military honours in their cemetery at Annoeullin.
An insight into his last days is provided by a letter written by Commander J. Atkins who describes the aftermath of the fight in which Albert guided his plane home after losing his controls.
The following Sunday, Albert went to collect his repaired plane and asked for alterations to be made to the guns.
"As he stood making a pattern in the dust with a streamline wire he had picked up, he told me that General Trenchard said he was to go home when he had 'got 50'.
"But he said, 'I shall never go home'."
THE letters and other memorabilia of Albert Ball VC were bequeathed to the City or Nottingham in 1985 by his sister, Mrs Lois Anderson, and are now deposited in the Nottinghamshire Archives Office, Castle Meadow Road, Nottingham.