On a pleasant spring evening on Saturday 7 May, the people of Nottingham came together to celebrate the life and valour of Captain Albert Ball, champion fighter pilot, who died this day in 1917.

In attendance were veterans, visitors, Castle staff and volunteers who all gathered for a short memorial service at the foot of the Albert Ball statue. The Castle was also pleased to welcome the Lord Lieutenant, Sheriff of Nottingham and Lord Mayor, who also came to pay their respects to the local war hero.

The event was organised by a member of our learning and education team, Kiernan Walker, in partnership with the RAFA.

I’m very happy that the memorial service was able to take place here at Nottingham Castle this year. I think it’s critical that over 100 years later we still remember the heroic actions of Captain Albert Ball, although after all he was just one of many individuals from Nottingham who have died in service for their country.

Who Was Albert Ball?
Born on 14 August 1886, Albert Ball grew up in Lenton with his father, Albert Ball Senior, a plumber who would go on to become the Lord Mayor of Nottingham, his mother and two siblings. Developing a keen eye for marksmanship and mechanics from an early age, Albert and his younger brother would often be found in his back garden experimenting with engines and firing replica rifles.

At seventeen, Albert left school to join the universal engineering works on Castle Boulevard. Enlisting immediately as war broke out, he found himself frustrated at not being posted to France until February 1916. His first confirmed victory was on 29 March and Albert would continue to take out enemy aircraft at a blistering rate. Over the course of the battle of the Somme, around five months, he is believed to have downed 26 enemy pilots. On his return to Nottingham, he was greeted as a national hero and entertained by the Mayor and the Sheriff. In return for their hospitality, he presented them with photograph frames which were made from the tips of German aircraft propellers that he had shot down himself. He spent the next few months in various squadrons as an instructor and in reconnaissance roles.

On the evening of 7 May 1917, Albert would set off for what would be his final flight. While the exact version of events remains unclear, we do know that Albert’s aircraft crash landed just outside the village of Annoeullin and a young girl managed to remove his body from the wreckage. Taken to a nearby German field hospital, sadly Albert was immediately pronounced dead. A military funeral was attended by German officers, British prisoners of war and the local villagers. Posthumously, his bravery and service would see him awarded the Victoria Cross and promoted to the rank of Captain. Shortly after his death, the London Gazette reported on his distinguished service to the war effort.

For most conspicuous and consistent bravery from the 25th of April to the 6th of May, 1917, during which period Capt. Ball took part in twenty-six combats in the air and destroyed eleven hostile aeroplanes, drove down two out of control, and forced several others to land. In all, Capt. Ball has destroyed forty-three German aeroplanes and one balloon, and has always displayed most exceptional courage, determination and skill.

Since the statue’s unveiling in the grounds in 1921, military personnel, and those wishing to pay their respects, have honoured Captain Albert Ball by holding a service this exact day each year.

The Albert Ball statue is located within the grounds of Nottingham Castle. You can purchase general admission tickets here.

Sources
Nottsheritagegateway.org.uk. n.d. The Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway > People > Albert Ball V.C.> Overview. [online] Available at: <http://www.nottsheritagegateway.org.uk/people/albertball.htm> [Accessed 12 May 2022].
Shores; et al. Above the Trenches. pp. 59–60
Historic UK. 2022. Albert Ball, First World War Fighter Ace – Historic UK. [online] Available at: <https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Albert-Ball-Great-War-Fighter-Ace/> [Accessed 12 May 2022].Secure.nottinghamshire.gov.uk. 2022. Albert Ball. [online] Available at: <https://secure.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/RollOfHonour/People/Details/21540> [Accessed 12 May 2022].