Albert Ball VC  [978094755489]

Albert Ball VC
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Date Added: Thursday 26. February, 2009
When I was a very small boy my father’s bedtime stories were often tales about his boyhood heroes - Manned, McCudden, Tuck, Bader…or Albert Ball. At the age of about 7 or 8, we were on holiday in England and visited Nottingham Castle. I was fascinated by the display of Ball memorabilia, particularly the gIass windshield pierced by a bullet hole. In the photographs he looked so young and so serious.

Having picked up this book, I had a look at the second page, on which are listed other books written by the late Chaz Bowyer - what it breadth of interest and knowledge. I therefore very much looked forward to reading this book, the story of the al-too-brief life of a man I had greatly admired for more than 40 years, written by an author of quality and renown. Having read It, I can state with absolute assurance that I was not disappointed in the slightest degree.

It is obvious from page one that the author is deeply interested in his subject, he some what modestly claims in the preface he wrote to the revised edition that it is not a “full” biography. I could not disagree more - it is a thorough, fascinating and quite outstanding biography with all the detail one could possibly require of Ball's background, family, thoughts and deeds. It is not complete only in the sense that Ball was not permitted to live more than a bare 20 years. It is very apparent from the copious quotes from his letters that emotionally he was just out of boyhood, with his senses and nerves stretched to the very limit by the demands imposed by a form of warfare that was being invented while he fought it. He writes like an enthusiastic fifth former - anything good is ripping or topping, anything bad is poo-poo. The most poignant and moving quote is on page 78. Ball put immense moral, mental and physical pressure on himself - flying up to eight times per day, more often than not alone as he preferred. His RFC commanders gave him a fairly free rein, which in the end burned him out after less than a year of operational duties all told.

All of his combats are described; the technical detail on the aircraft show's the depth of the author's knowledge of the period. I have only one minor quibble – it is surely a typing error that should have been spotted by the editor, to name the German two-seater as an LUG several times - when as we all know, the correct name was LVG. Ball's final flight analysed in some detail and certainly this reviewer would not argue with the author’s sage judgment..

The book was first published in 1977 and then re-issued in 1994 with greatly expanded photographic content. The photos are marvelous and are worth the cover price in themselves - the current publishers, who have recently issued this reprint, are to be congratulated on the high standard of reproduction. It concludes with some very useful appendices Iisting the aircaft Ball is known to have flown in combat, describing the Austin AFB Scout, providing the citations for the seven awards for gallantry he received and thoroughly examining his combat record.

In summary then, this is a really fine book and should be enjoyed by the widest possible audience, who wish to gain a greater understanding of one of the young men who fought the first war in the air. If you want to read more about the period, have a look at Wind in the Wires by D Grinnel-Milne, Winged Victory by VM Yeates and Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis to name but a few.

Reviewed by Guy Warner
February 2009 – Flying Ireland
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars! [5 of 5 Stars!]
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