My Family History
Leonard Ball - the Soldier
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Dad's experiences in the Great War
Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914. Dad was then 17½ years old and trying to establish a career in commercial art. In the early years of the War, the Armed Services relied on volunteers to provide their troops, but by 1916, it was clear that compulsory conscription would be necessary to replace the tremendous losses that were being suffered in battles such as those at Ypres (1914-15) and Verdun (1916).
Dad joins up
Dad was called up in June 1916. He had wanted to join the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, but instead found himself in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (O & BLI or "the Oxfords").
Dad signed his attestation papers on 15th June 1916, aged 19½, and as 24137 Private F. L. Ball, he was posted to G Company of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion to undergo basic training at Fort Widley, near Southsea, Portsmouth. According to the handwritten records that he kept, his pay at this time was one shilling (1/-) per day, but compulsory stoppages reduced this to just sixpence (6d) per day!
Right: The Oxford and Bucks at Fort Widley in 1916.
Dad is second from the left on the back row.
Left: A studio photographic postcard
of Dad taken in the summer of 1916.
On the reverse of the postcard Dad wrote:
"Dear Mother, Dad and Alice,
Hoping you will like this. I had them taken at Portsmouth last Saturday night. I was not dirty but it is the sunburn that looks dark.
PS Give Miss Reading 1 and Mr Fletcher and Aunt Maria and Aunts Ada and Alice."
(Mom always reckoned that Dad's face was flushed because he was drunk when the photo was taken!!)
One of the things Dad learned during his basic army training was how to march. The Oxford and Bucks were foot soldiers and they had a tradition of marching at 140 steps per minute, the fastest rate in the British Army. Dad always claimed they could maintain this pace for mile after mile, up hill and down dale. This rapid gait was a characteristic he retained for the rest of his life!!
Dad's overseas posting
From the 3rd Battalion (G Company), on 5th February 1917, Dad was drafted to the 1st Battalion Oxford and Bucks at Fort Purbrook, where he had to report to a Captain J. M. Boardman, the Officer Commanding B Company.
B Coy were to be posted overseas to reinforce the troops in Mesopotamia (Iraq). Because the Suez Canal was occupied, the route taken was southward, round the Cape of Good Hope, docking at Durban (South Africa) and Bombay (India) before arriving at Basra in the Persian Gulf (See map, right).
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