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"I am well read, fairly well travelled, maybe not as many stamps on my passport as I would like. Young at Heart, Always! I like Military history. I Love Life`s variable, colour, character are potential events to record for posterity!!
Captain Albert Ball V.C. – British Ace 1896 /1917 Pt.8
Inaction annoyed Ball and he began pestering for a return to active duty. He finally managed to obtain a posting as a flight commander to No.56 Squadron RFC, considered to be as close to an elite unit as any established by the RFC. Ball was still first among Britain’s aces, and some documents hint that his attachment to No.56 Squadron was planned to be temporary. according to one account he had been slated to serve with the unit for only a month to mentor novice pilots. The latest fighter from the Royal Aircraft Factory, the S.E.5, had been selected to equip the new squadron. This choice was viewed with some trepidation by RFC Higher Command, and Ball himself was far from happy with the S.E.5. After some intense lobbying he was allowed to keep his Nieuport 17 No. B1522 when the unit went to France; the Nieuport was for his solo missions, and he would fly an S.E.5 on patrols with the rest of the squadron. This arrangement had the personal approval of General Hugh Trenchard, who went on to become the first Chief of the Air Staff of the Royal Air Force. No.56 Squadron moved to the Western Front on the 7th of April 1917. On arrival Ball wrote to his parents, “Cheerio, am just about to start the great game again”.
S.E.5 No. A 4850, fresh from its packing crate, was extensively modified for Ball: in particular he had the synchronised Vickers gun removed and replaced with a second Lewis gun angled to fire through the floor of the cockpit. He also had a slightly larger fuel tank fitted. on the 9th of April 1917 A 4850 was refitted and the downward firing Lewis gun was removed and replaced by a standard Vickers gun mounting. On the 23rd of April 1917, although under strict orders to stay over British lines, but still managed to engage the Germans five times in his Nieuport. In his first combat of the day, using his preferred belly shot, he sent an Albatros into a spin and followed it down, continuing to fire at it till it struck the ground. It was No.56 Squadron’s first victory. Regaining an altitude of 5,000Ft, he tried to dive underneath an Albatros two-seater and pop up under its belly as usual, but he overshot and the German rear gunner put a burst of 15 bullets through the Nieuport’s wings and spars. Ball coaxed the Nieuport home for repairs, returning to battle in an S.E.5 in his third combat of the day, he fired five rounds before his machine gun jammed. After landing to clear the blockage, he took off once again, surprising five Albatros fighters and sending one down in flames. His fifth combat, shortly thereafter, appeared inconclusive as the plane managed to land safely. However its observer had been mortally wounded.
A week later, we, that is myself and all of my medical staff were aboard a Royal Navy ship being transported across the channel to France. On arrival there we were met by a fleet of lorries and other vehicles to transport us inland, closer to where the fighting was taking place.
I admit to a twinge of disappointment when we arrived at our designated site. All of the facilities were there, but housed in tents and a cluster of hastily erected huts. To my physician’s mind this was hardly the place to keep our wounded, let alone cure them.
It was early September, but the weather was beginning to change, I was afraid that whether in the tents or huts. The wounded would not survive the winter.
I contacted my superiors and insisted that if they indeed wanted me to save lives, then I needed far better facilities than those on offer. I am not decrying the efforts of the Engineers who built our base, but the fact remains that the facilities are woefully inadequate to fulfil my requirements.
Two days later we received our first batch of wounded. And as I had expected some of the wounds were most severe, and attempting to recover from surgery in a freezing tent was far from an ideal situation.
At least in the huts we could provide a degree of warmth and comfort, but even this was far from ideal. To my mind we would suffer heavy losses.
I would like to apologise to all my friends and followers on WordPress. I recently returned from holiday and after a few days at home suffered a minor heart attack. I will commence to publish on my normal days but in due course have to return to hospital for a major operation, please bear with me, I will return.
Captain Albert Ball V.C. – British Ace 1896 /1917 Pt. 7
Ball had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order ( D.S.O.) and bar simultaneously on the 26th of September 1916. The bar was for “conspicuous skill and gallantry” when he attacked four enemy aircraft in formation and then on another occasion twelve enemy machines. He was also awarded the Russian Order of Saint George the same month. Now that Ball had returned to England, he was lionised as a national hero with a reputation as a fearless pilot and an expert marksman. A crowd of journalists awaited him on his family’s doorstep. I an interview he mentioned being shot down six times in combat. On the 18th of November 1916, he was invested with his Military Cross and both D.S.O’s by King George V at Buckingham Palace. A second bar to the D.S.O. for taking on three enemy aircraft and downing one of them, making him the first three time recipient of the award. Ball was promoted to the substantive rank of lieutenant on the 8th of December 1916.
Instead of returning to combat after his leave, Ball was posted to instructional duties with No. 34 ( Reserve ) Squadron RFC, based at Orford Ness, Suffolk. About this time he was debriefed by Flying instructor Philip Gribble who had been charged with discovering the tactics used by the ace fighter pilots, Gribble came to the conclusion that Ball operated on “paramount courage and a bit of luck”. Ball asked Gribble to let him try a Bristol Scout, which he landed badly, seriously damaging the undercarriage, Ball requested another machine to try again, unfortunately with the same result. Ball consoled himself by eating “seven pounds of chocolate”. It was while serving on the Home Front that he was able to lobby for the building and testing of the Austin – Ball A.F.B.1 fighter aircraft. He had hoped to return to France with one, but the prototype was not completed until his death in action. in November he was invited to test fly the new Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5, single-seat scout, apparently the first serving pilot to do so. He was unimpressed, finding the heavier, more stable fighter less responsive to the controls than the Nieuports he had been flying. His negative assessment of other aspects of the aircrafts performance, on the other hand, contrasted markedly with the reactions of fellow pilots who tested the prototype around this time. Ball was to maintain his opinion that the S.E.5 was a dud, at least until he had scored several victories on the type after his return to France. On the 19th of February 1917, Ball became an Honorary Freeman of Nottingham, his home City. It was around this time that he met James Mc Cudden, also on leave, who later reported his impressions in most favourable terms. In London, Ball also encountered Canadian Billy Bishop, who had not as yet seen combat. Ball took an immediate liking to Bishop and may have helped him to secure a posting to No. 60 Squadron.
When Jock caught up with me he said, ‘Well wasn’t that fun, just like old times but next time let me be the bait in the trap, we can’t afford to lose you.’ ‘That’s awfully considerate of you Jock,’ I said gratefully. ‘Not at all’ he grinned, ‘After it is you that’s paying for our little soiree.’ ‘I suppose you have a valid point there, but thanks all the same.’
The day following the incident with the brigands was totally uneventful, so much so that we longed for something to happen. That little spell of action had enlivened us.
That night while we were waiting for the food to cook over our open fire, I perused the maps that my Father had given me. According to my reckoning we were about three days steady travelling away from Karlstadt.
I could not help but wonder what would greet us, would we be greeted with suspicion and open hostility, or would we be given the cordial welcome that all visitors expect. The following day dawned, a beautiful sunny day, a day full of promise.
Despite our earlier misgivings, Jock and I were both enjoying the Carpathians, both for the scenery and the solitude. We could travel for days without seeing a single soul. For us it took a little getting used too.
(C) Damian Grange 2019
To all my friends and followers please note this will be my last post until Friday the 5th of October as I am taking a short break…. Thank you.
I took it upon myself to stand the first watch, but I was almost exhausted, so at the last moment, Henrik changed places with me, and did me the kindness of standing the first watch whilst I caught up on my sleep.
I dozed off almost immediately, and when I awoke cursed myself for not relieving Henrik sooner. As it happened it did not matter, when I arrived to relieve my friend he was already dead, with a black mamba slithering away from him.
I killed the snake with my hunting knife. A snake of this kind would only kill if surprised, my immediate thought was Nathan. He thought that I was standing guard, he would hurl a snake at me rather than tackle me face to face.
I owed Henrik a life, and I knew whose it would be and before too long, the odds were now in their favour. I wanted to rush headlong in to camp and call Nathan out, but although Maartens was spineless he might not hesitate to shoot me in the back especially where a fortune in diamonds was concerned he had not the sense to realise that with me out of the way he too was expendable, why settle for 50 / 50 when you can have it all.
I went in to the camp and woke them both and explained what had happened, they both expressed regret, but they were both poor actors I dug a hole and buried Henrik and said a few words over him, it was the least I could do for my old comrade in arms. But I silently vowed that his death would be avenged.
The next question was fielded by the Matron, ‘You made a statement that we will be treating any and all casualties, do’s this also include the enemy, should they end up at our door?’ As I stated, ‘We will treat all wounded of whatever race, colour or religion, friend or enemy we are there to save lives, not play politics.’
‘Have we received direct orders regarding the treatment of enemy wounded?’ asked one of my Doctors. ‘We are bound by our Hippocratic oaths to treat all sick and wounded and I would imagine that the enemy’s medical staff would do the same, do’s that in some part answer your question?’
‘As I keep trying to stress to you, until we do actually arrive in the battle zone I have no inclination of what we might actually find there, all that I can do is to try to prepare you for the worst possible scenario and pray that this not what we find.’ I stated honestly.
‘What makes you think that the conditions will be so hellish?’ queried one of the Nursing Sisters. ‘Since the cessation of the last hostilities, all the Major Powers have been expanding their arsenals, with bigger more powerful weapons, weapons that in the past we have only dreamed of, and these include flying machines that may attack us from out of the sky, we have no comprehension of what our troops may be facing or the wounds that they may receive. This coming war may be Armageddon!’
Captain Albert Ball V.C – British Ace 1896 / 1917 Pt. 6
Ball then took leave in England, his feats in France had won considerable publicity. He was the first British ace to become a household name, and discovered that his fame was such that he could not walk down the streets of Nottingham without being stopped and congratulated. Prior to this the British Government had suppressed the names of its aces in contrast to the policies of the French and Germans who unashamedly used them for propaganda purposes, but the losses of the Battle of the Somme, which had commenced in July made it politic to publicise our successes in the air. Ball’s achievements had a profound impact on budding flyer Mick Mannock, who later became Britain’s top-scoring ace and also a Victoria Cross recipient.
Upon his return to No.60 Squadron in France, Ball scored morning and evening victories on the 15th of September flying two different Nieuports, on the evening mission he armed his aircraft with eight Le Prieur rockets, fitted to the outer wing struts and designed to fire electronically. He intended to use them on an observation balloon. As it happened he spotted a formation of three Roland CII’s and broke their formation by salvoing his rockets at them, then downed one of the aircraft with machine – gun fire. After this exploit he settled in to an improved aircraft Nieuport 17 A.213. he had it rigged to fly tail – heavy to facilitate his changing of ammunition drums in the machine-gun, and had a holster built in to the cockpit for the Colt automatic pistol that he habitually carried. Three times during September he scored triple victories in a day, ending the month with his total score standing at 31 making him Britain’s top – scoring ace. By this time he had told his Commanding Officer that he had to have a rest and that he was taking unnecessary risks because of his nerves. On the 3rd of October he was sent on leave, en route to a posting at Home Establishment in England.
I delegated the selection of the Nursing Sisters to my newly promoted Matron. I had briefed her fully on what I required from them, The rest I would leave to her experience.
Once the Sisters were selected, they in turn would choose the Nurse’s who would be working under them. In this fashion I hoped somehow to forge a strong team.
When the selection process was almost completed, I hosted a meeting of my senior staff, that included Doctors, Matron and Nursing Sisters.
I explained as best I could how I expected the hospital to be run. I did not wish to set myself up as a martinet, but no matter what the circumstance’s I would insist that the patient’s treatment and welfare came first above all other precedents. I then threw the meeting open for questions as I am sure there would be many.
One of the surgeons opened the questions, ‘With respect, Major, have you any practical experience of running a Field Hospital of this kind?’ ‘I would like to think so, I was a resident at Concentration Camp No.1 at Bloemfontien in the Boer conflict. I was also Doctor in residence at the Whitechapel Infirmary for a number of years. But, with regards to your question, the honest answer is no! until we arrive in France or wherever and set up shop we have no idea what we shall be facing and I would be a liar to say otherwise. ‘Thank you for your honesty Sir, replied the Doctor.
They were both grinning thinking that I had walked in to their trap, little knowing that they had stumbled headlong in to mine. Because I had every intention of exacting my revenge out there on the veldt. Four would be leaving, but only two would be returning or at least the way I had planned it.
The following day, we set off at daybreak, Maartens and Nathan taking turns to drive the wagon and Henrik and myself blazing the trail on horseback. This way I could always keep a little way in front of them and possibly locate the source of the diamonds without their knowledge.
The only disadvantage with this course of action, was that whilst they were together they would also be plotting on how to get their own hands on the diamonds and their source, but it was a chance I had to take.
I had every intention of disposing of the two of them, but for the moment I pretended to have no idea of their intentions toward myself and Henrik, but I was aware that they were also biding their time, until we were deeper in to the veldt.
When we stopped to make camp for the night, around the campfire it was all good natured camaraderie, but I don’t think I was fooled, anymore than I was fooling them. It was all pretence, we all knew how high the stakes were.
It was at night that I was my most cautious, we were for the most part apart during the day. If they planned to make a move on me, it would happen during the night of that I was certain.