Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Two Alberts Memorial


To commemorate the centenary of the founding of the Royal Flying Corps and link to the Sepia Saturday theme of Flight, I present my great uncle Albert (1885-1976), standing (left) by his Sopwith Camel. He was two years older than my grandfather Sydney and was the middle child of my great-grandparents, William Joseph and Mary Jane. At the start of the First World War he was an apprentice joiner, but joined the South Notts Hussars in 1914, later transferring to the Royal Flying Corps, first as an airframe rigger, and then a rear gunner.


Albert appears in uniform of a different kind in ‘Drum Roll Please’, about his membership of the Boys Brigade.We don’t know much about his war service but my mother remembers him emigrating to Australia in 1924. She says she threw her arms round his neck and cried, and poor Albert was very upset by her show of affection. Mum was only three years old, so I can imagine it was quite a moving experience for him. He said goodbye to his family, who always kept in touch by letter, but never actually saw him in the flesh again. He would write to my mother all his life, and at Christmas, a parcel of Australian dried fruits would arrive for Mum to make her Christmas cake. I remember hearing his voice, because the family would send the old reel-to-reel tapes to each other. The last recording I have of my Grandad is his Christmas message to ‘Bert in 1970.  Albert remained a bachelor until, at the age of 70, he married Ellen, the widow of his long term friend,and the postmistress of Sailors Falls, Daylesford, near Melbourne. Looking at pictures of him, I imagine he was a charmer. Mum tells me he was a 'ladies’ man’ and I wonder how many hearts he captured when wearing his dashing uniform.

From my great-uncle Albert to his namesake, WW1 Flying Ace Albert Ball. Growing up in Nottingham I was always aware of the heroic Captain Ball; on family visits to Nottingham Castle we would pay homage at his statue and marvel at the record of his deeds and medals displayed in the castle itself. Ball joined the Sherwood Foresters, and transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. He too was a handsome young man, but he went on to become one of the top air aces of the war, gaining the Victoria Cross posthumously. No other pilot captured the public imagination in the same way as Albert Ball. He insisted on flying alone in his Nieuport Scout, where his fearlessness and deadly shooting accuracy, whilst skillfully handling his aircraft, brought fear and admiration from the enemy.  In a short period of just fifteen months he rose quickly through the ranks, gaining the MC, DSO and two bars, and was credited with at least 44 victories. There is an excellent website about Ball telling the fascinating story of his life and character, and where extracts from his letters can be read. I urge you to dip in and discover the human story behind the hero who died aged just 20 years, in circumstances which remain unclear to this day.


Living in Wiltshire, as I did for twenty two years before moving to Lanzarote, I was also close to the flying connection. We first moved there in 1987 when my husband was posted to RAF Upavon. The Officers' Mess at Upavon was the first mess for the Royal Flying Corps, and is now a listed building. The station motto was in Principio Et Semper  - “In The Beginning and Always” and the station crest was a pterodactyl rising from the rocks, symbolising the station’s connection with the early days of flying. Just a stone’s throw from our house was the Museum of Army Flying at Middle Wallop. If you find yourself in or near Wiltshire in the next few months, it may be worth paying the museum a visit, as an exhibition to mark the Royal Flying Corps’ centenary is planned.

Alan gave the option of ‘Flights of Fancy’ but as this was the title of an earlier post about Prince Charles at Cranwell, I decided to go with the RFC theme, especially as it had been my suggestion and I felt somewhat responsible. Don’t forget to let Alan and Kat know if you have a favourite theme, date or idea. Even better join us in the Sepia Saturday Facebook group which is proving to be lots of fun.
In the meantime, chocks away for ........

Both portraits of Albert Ball are in the in the public domain courtesy of Wikimedia

29 comments:

  1. What interesting information - you are right, both of them are very handsome! Imagine getting married for the first time at the age of 70 - quite a shock to the constitution! I hope she looked after him in his old age.

    I am reading at present some contemporary documents about the Crimean War and I'm sad for the many, many men who died in agony there becuase of incompetence by their superiors, and they are not commemorated in any way. So many battles and these days there will be few people who even know what the Crimean War was about.
    I'm glad soldiers of the 20th century have been commemorated.

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    1. He did marry a widow of a friend so she was probably near his own age. Hope they aged well together. And as a ladies man...maybe it wasn't such a shock.

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  2. Now I see why you suggested flight as the theme for this week. I have read about Albert Ball VC somehere before so I was pulled up short to see him here.

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  3. A fitting post for the anniversary and for the theme. I feel I am beginning to get to know members of your family now from previous posts. it's rather nice, a bit like an extended sepia family. Why don't they have Sopwith Camels these days, what a wonderful name for a plane, a 757 or whatever can't compete.

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  4. Such an interesting post. The story of bert going off to Australia never to be seen by his family again is so sad. But had a happy ending when he marries at age 70.
    I'll have to read the info about Albert Ball, sounds like a mysterious story about his dying so young. The were both such handsome men.
    Nancy

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  5. A lovely and moving post, thanks for sharing it

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  6. Oh, excellent post, Nell! Of course, I cannot hear that word "Sopwith" without thinking of Snoopy and his "Sopwith Camel Doghouse"!

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  7. Nell, this is all so good ... ready to submit to the newspaper, I think. So much history, family and otherwise. I keep going back to your mother crying and nobody seeing him face to face again. The reel-to-reel tapings were fantastic idea.

    I enjoyed the story about the other Albert too. He looks as if he could have been a movie star, but the plane and stories are true.

    Kathy M.

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  8. I don't know anything about Sopwith Camels, but I recognize the name from Snoopy's "plane" in the Peanuts comic strip.

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  9. Somebody was right when they said you can find love at any age! I totally agree on how handsome they were, and such an amazing lives! Thanks for posting this special edition of flight! (still laughing on how you thought it best to stay on theme! ha ha!) ;)

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  10. I love the way your Uncle Albert looks. These are such great photos! And getting married for the first time at 70 - what can I say? What a guy.

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  11. Two wonderful stories beautifully told. Both Alberts were handsome heroes. I am glad to see a real Sopwith Camel -- it reminded me of Snoopy on top of his doghouse, imagining he was flying a Sopwith Camel (Peanuts cartoon).

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  12. Very interesting story- I can't imagine how his mom felt- never seeing him in person again.

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    1. Sadly Great Uncle Albert’s mother had died when he was a young boy; his father and siblings were the ones who were left bereft when he emigrated. If you click on my link (Drum Roll Please) in the post above you’ll see how proud the family were of the two brothers in their Boys Brigade days. As far as Albert Ball’s family are concerned, they must have been devastated, to lose a such a talented and heroic son so young. If you visit the website I recommend above, it’s quite an eye-opener.

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  13. A lovely tribute to your uncle. Have you researched his life in Australia?

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    1. Not yet Julie - too many other family members to concentrate on first. No doubt we’ll get round to it one day.

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  14. I'm glad at least that the family kept Albert's photos. Emigration must have been an even bigger wrench in those days without modern communications. i know we have family in Australia and have totally lost touch.

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  15. PS I always wanted to live in one of the Wallops, especially Nether Wallop, purely because of the name.

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  16. Brilliant post - thanks for including the link to the site about Albert Ball; fascinating.

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  17. Some good looking guys for sure. I did not know that Sopwith Camel was the name of a plane. I just thought it was made up for the Snoopy in Peanuts. Ironically I have a post today about a family named Ball. Mine is very sad however.
    QMM

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  18. A Great Post.You Were Flying This Week!

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  19. Thank you for sharing - as an American I did not know anything about Albert Ball.

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  20. wonderful tribute to the Alberts and a great array of photos. My maiden name was Ball but no relation to Albert! I have not seen a Sopwith Camel photo in sometime now so that was a treat for me!

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  21. Absolutely fascinating flying back into history. These young men flying these machines were so brave, so many did not come back and died before they have lived.

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  22. I clicked over to the page about Albert Ball and am so glad I did. Fascinating! I think I might have watched a documentary about his death. It sounds very familiar.

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  23. While I am against war and violence of any kind, something to be said about men in uniforms... Odd to know of the existence of someone across the planet without ever meeting him, isn't it? Cute that he wrote his mom every year though. I've bookmarked that Ball website to read later. I must say you've intrigued me.
    Good show, especially since this theme was your suggestion.
    :)~
    HUGZ

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  24. A post about handsome, brave men in uniforming and a late-blooming romance. What more could we want? Very nice!

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  25. A super post with a great story and beautiful photos.

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  26. Love the vintage airplanes, the uniforms and the backstory! What a couple of good looking guys too!

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