Among Victoria Cross winners, more than a few show that quintessentially english personality trait – eccentricity. Many who people who might have been almost sectionable in peacetime have found their moment in wartime. First World War fighter Pilot Albert Ball is perhaps one of the most eccentric of the lot.
Ball was unhappy with the hygiene of his assigned billet in the nearest village. He elected to live in a tent on the flight line. He soon built a hut to replace the tent; he reasoned it was better to be closer to his airplane. Very much a loner, Ball preferred his own company. Apparently sensitive and shy, he spent much of his spare time tending to his small garden and practicing the violin. He insisted on working on his own aeroplanes, and as such had an untidy and dishevelled appearance. In combat he refused to wear goggles or a flying helmet.
But this eccentricity added up to make a ferocious fighter, who consistently performed heroics in the air. By the time of his death on 7 May 1917 Ball had accounted for one balloon and 28 aircraft. For consistent gallantry he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
“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 these combats Capt. Ball, flying alone, on one occasion fought six hostile machines, twice he fought five and once four. When leading two other British aeroplanes he attacked an enemy formation of eight. On each of these occasions he brought down at least one enemy. Several times his aeroplane was badly damaged, once so seriously that but for the most delicate handling his machine would have collapsed, as nearly all the control wires had been shot away. On returning with a damaged machine he had always to be restrained from immediately going out on another. In all, Capt. Ball has destroyed forty-three German aeroplanes and one balloon, and has always displayed most exceptional courage, determination and skill.”