White Feather

As I creep towards the end of Peter Hart’s excellent book about the evacuation of Gallipoli, I reflect on the thoughts of Lance Corporal Edgar Rule, 14th (Victoria) Battalion, 4th Brigade, New Zealand and Australian Division, who was heavy-hearted at the mates left behind in the cemeteries.  He and his chums worried about whether the graves would be treated with respect; they needn’t have.

We all know that the ANZACs were a cog in a bigger machine of nationalities who fought at Gallipoli and this blog is about one of those “others”.  Charles Frederick Ball, an Englishman who served with an Irish regiment, lies in LaLa Baba cemetery, a cemetery I have visited on all three occasions that I have been to Gallipoli with Peter Hart Battlefield Tours.  However, I have only recently learnt Fred’s story, so it seems I will have to visit again!

By the time the winter evacuation of Gallipoli took place, the 10th (Irish) Division had already left the peninsular in the autumn to take up a new fight in Salonica.  Many of their fallen comrades left behind had no known graves and are commemorated on the memorial to the missing at Helles.  Of those that have a known grave, the story of Private Charles Frederick Ball, D Company, 7th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, killed on 13th September 1915, buried plot II.A.8., LaLa Baba cemetery, is intriguing.

Fred Ball was born in Loughborough, Leicestershire in 1879 to Mary and Alfred Ball and was educated at Loughborough Grammar School.  Rather than follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a chemist, Fred opted for botany, starting work in a nursery and then getting a position at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 1900. In 1906 he became a sub-foreman and a few months after that, on the recommendation of the curator of Kew, he transferred to Dublin to become principal assistant to the Head Keeper at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin.  In 1911 he and a colleague went on a mission to Bulgaria, to collect plants from the Balkan mountains and inspect a famous rose garden. They were the personal guests of King Ferdinand, shortly to become an ally of the enemy whose forces Fred’s Irish chums were to fight in Salonica.  Although of a studious nature, Fred was reputed to be a fine cricketer and golfer, whose romance with Alice Lane was progressing nicely, along with his career, which also included being editor of the publication Irish Gardening.  Fred married Alice in December 1914 and their home was at 15 Percy Place, Dublin off the Grand Canal; she was to become a war widow before the dawn of the following Autumn.

Thirty-five year old Fred, in common with a comrade of the same age, who was to become a good pal, did not immediately volunteer on the outbreak of war.  It is said that the catalyst prompting Fred to enlist was the receipt of white feather (a sign of cowardice) at his place of employment which was reported in the Irish Times

Fred enlisted as a private into D Company, 7thRoyal Dublin Fusiliers, who found fame as the Pals at Suvla Bay, by Henry Hanna.  By the time of its publication in October 1916, Fred had been killed at Gallipoli and his chum, Frank Laird, was wounded there but recovered and about to be gazetted Second Lieutenant.

Frank Laird’s memoir gives a detailed account of his experience of Gallipoli.  The D Company Pals landed at Suvla Bay on 7thAugust and their objective was Chocolate Hill.  They marched with other units along the shoreline, skirted the Salt Lake and extended into open order over open country, except for a few trees and scrubby bushes.  Frank remembered that:-

“I spent the day with Ball, my friend, according to our agreement on the trawler as we steamed over, to stick together, and with a few other chaps of our section.  For most of the time we knew and saw little outside our small fellowship.  We dived into our ditch together when the section leader gave the order, and rose and rushed on when he gave it again.  We tried to recollect our home training, and to resist the impulse to crowd together in the safer looking spots, or to make for the false security of trees or outstanding bushes.  Occasionally one of us tripped and fell on the sun-baked earth, but immediately relieved the feelings of his friends by jumping up and running on.  At one spot a shrapnel shell burst low over our line, and one of us was missing at the next stop.”

The war diary for 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers (WO 95/4296) reported the action for Saturday 7th August 1917 and ended as follows:-

“The HILL was captured about 8pm by parts of “A” and “D” Coys., and details of other Regiments the whole led by MAJOR R.S.M. HARRISON.  CASUALTIES: 3 officers, 109 other ranks.”

Unfortunately, the momentum of Saturday’s success was not carried on during Sunday, when rest and regrouping was the order of the day.  The following day, Monday 9th August 1915, Pte Frank Laird was assigned to an ammunition carrying party to go out to the 6th Royal Dublin Fusiliers in an advanced position. He was wounded while trying to return to his company, shot through the right shoulder and lung and he fractured three ribs. 

“I fainted again for a few minutes, and when I came to found I was bandaged up.  I asked the D Company man to take my glasses to my friend Ball, from whom I had been separated that morning for the first time, and requested some stretcher bearers who were there to take me down.”  

Pte Laird went into the medical evacuation chain; Pte Ball remained to fight further days and suffered an ignominious death a month later.  On 4th September 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers were relieved from support trenches two miles from LaLa Baba and dug in around Chocolate Hill.  From there they moved back to “rest” camp on the beach at Lala Baba on 9th September and over the next four days they were subject to shell fire resulting in thirty casualties, one of which was the death of Fred Ball.  During those four days Fred continued to take advantage of opportunities to examine the peninsula’s flora, as he had done, whenever he could, since his arrival.  He is reported to have been sheltering behind a rock digging up weeds with his bayonet when he was killed on 13th September 1915.  

The report Frank Laird received a few weeks later, while in hospital in Birmingham, of his chum’s death was different:-

As the days went by I began to hear of many of my friends who had gone under.  My old Company was severely mauled after I left it, and among others my chief friend Ball was reported killed.  While waiting on the beach with other sick (he was ill with dysentery) a shell fell near him and wounded one of his comrades.  True to his nature he waited to help in the wounded man instead of rushing to cover.  A second shell followed the first and he was struck in the back.  In his weak condition he had not vitality to make a fight for life and died some hours later.  He was buried by the sea.  Thus very soon was fulfilled a presentiment he mentioned to me one day in Basingstoke, that he would not live to be very old, at which I then laughed.  A silent and reserved Englishman, it did not take a long acquaintance to find the kindliness that lay behind his modest bearing, and the strength that made him a man not to be trifled with.  It took longer to discover that he had already made a name for himself, and would have gone far in his calling had he not found a glorious end in Gallipoli.  He was a friend on whom one might count for a lifetime.”

By the time of his death, Fred had sent seeds back to the Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin for cultivation, including some Gallipoli Oak acorns.  A cultivar of the South American shrub Escallonia is named C.F. Ball in his memory, a beautiful shrub with dark green leaves and bright red flowers which is excellent for bees.  

Fred Ball’s personal file would be on my list to look up when I eventually return to the National Archives, Kew, just along the road from Fred’s first employment as a botanist, but unfortunately there is no record on the website, only a Medal Index Card reference.

While researching Fred I came across this blog/website, from which I took the photo of LaLa Baba cemetery as it is better than mine:-

https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/remembering-c-f-ball-of-kew-glasnevin-killed-gallipoli-13-september-1915/

The blog contains an obituary printed in The Garden magazine dated 16th October 1915.

My blog, next week, will be a review of Peter Hart’s book The Gallipoli Evacuation.

N.B. The White Feather is from a personal collection, it is not the one given to Fred Ball.

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