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348694 (WR/279511) Lance Corporal
Royal Engineers

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2002. All Rights Reserved.


Unless otherwise noted, the details supplied in this narrative were extracted from the soldier’s service papers obtained from the Public Record Office at Kew, Richmond, Surrey. Ball’s service papers were very badly damaged by fire and water, hence much of the information contained in the documents was illegible. The author has tried to make this narrative of his service as accurate and as complete as possible; however, many details of his service may be lost forever and some of the information contained herein may be inaccurate regarding exact dates.


James Herbert Ball was born in the Parish of Birkdale, in the town of Southport, in the County of Lancashire in September of 1892. Southport is a coastal town on the Irish Sea in West Lancashire. It is located south of the Ribble Estuary and about 17 miles north of the city of Liverpool. The town was (and is today) a favoured seaside resort and residential town with pleasant parks, extensive sand beaches and the second largest pier in England. The Birkdale area of Southport is famous for its championship golf courses.

Prior to joining the Army, Ball lived at 183 New Road in Birkdale. He was a member of the Church of England and worked as a platelayer [1] for the Cheshire Lines Committee. The Cheshire Lines Committee (CLC) was a joint railway system and the second largest in England after the Midland and Great Northern. The railway consisted of 70 stations and more than 140 miles of track, located mostly in the County of Lancashire. The largest stations of the CLC were Liverpool Central and Manchester Central.

Little is known about Ball’s family except that he had a married sister named Ada Egan. His sister was listed as his next of kin when he first joined the Army in 1916. Presumably his parents were deceased. Ada continued to be listed as his next of kin until Ball married in November of 1917.


The following is a description of James Herbert Ball at the time he enlisted in the Army in 1916:


23 years and 5 months


5 feet 5 inches


128 pounds

Chest (expanded):

35 inches

Chest (normal):

32 inches

Physical Development:



Two in his left arm from infancy

Distinctive Marks:


Physical Defects:

Upper dentures and defective lower teeth.

Medical Category:

"A" [2]


Initial Enlistment (1916)

Almost two and a half years had passed since the start of the Great War of 1914 to 1918 before James Ball was recruited at Southport, Lancashire to enlist in the 10th (Scottish) Battalion (Territorial Force) of The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment. He enlisted at the regimental depot at 7 Fraser Street in Liverpool on the 21st of February 1916. Upon his enlistment he indicated that he was not married, that he had never been convicted of a crime by civil power and that he had no prior naval or military service. He swore the Oath of Attestation on the 21st of February, however his attestation was not given final certification. He was not called up for immediate active service, but instead he was transferred to the Army Reserve on the day following his enlistment.

In the Army Reserve (1916-1917)

Ball went back to work for the CLC as a platelayer. Since he was qualified as a "Proficient" Platelayer, it is probable that this important work is what kept him from enlisting in the Army prior to February of 1916. Furthermore, the fact that he was released to the Army Reserve after enlistment appears to be further evidence that his civilian work was considered to be essential to the war effort and that it served King and Country to a greater degree than putting him in uniform.


Called to the Colours (1917)

Ball worked as a platelayer for the CLC for 18 months after being transferred to the Army Reserve. In August of 1917 he received word that his call up was imminent. Feeling that his skill as a railroad worker could be better used in other than an infantry regiment, it seems that Ball approached his boss, Mr. A.P. Ross, the Chief Engineer of the CLC to intercede on his behalf. On the 14th of August 1917 Mr. Ross wrote the following note from The Cheshire Lines Committee Engineer’s Office, Central Station, Liverpool:

To the Recruiting Officer, Southport

This is to certify that James Herbert Ball, Platelayer in this Committee’s Service, is being released for H.M. Service.

It is not through any fault of his Own that "Ball" is being released at such a late date, and if you can do anything for him in the choice of Regiment it will be appreciated.

Mr. Ross’ letter is an obvious attempt to do two things. First to explain why Ball was kept out of the Army for 18 months after his enlistment, and secondly, although not stated in so many words, to ask that Ball not be assigned to the infantry. Ross was asking the Recruiting Officer to post Ball to a unit where his skills as a platelayer could be utilized.

Liverpool Regiment and Machine Gun Corps (1917-1918)

Ball was called up to join the Colours as a Private (Regimental Number 360261) in the Liverpool Regiment on the 3rd of September 1917. The Certificate of Approving Authority was given for his attestation on this same date and most likely he reported to the regimental depot in Liverpool. He was not posted to his original battalion, as the 1/10th (Scottish) Battalion of the regiment was already in France. Instead he was immediately transferred to the headquarters of the 6th Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps. Upon his transfer his Regimental Number was changed to 127925.

The Machine Gun Corps consisted of individually numbered companies at this time. A reorganization of the Corps was taking place that would form a battalion from four independent machine gun companies. The 6th Battalion was to be formed from the 16th, 18th, 71st, and 192nd Machine Gun Companies. These companies already had been formed between January and December of 1916 and it was proposed to form them into the 6th Battalion in the 6th Division by the 1st of March 1918.

Royal Engineers Railway Troops (1918-1919)

Ball remained in Liverpool while the reorganization of the Machine Gun Corps was in progress. Apparently the Recruiting Officer was trying to honour the request made by Mr. Ross and at the same time to assign Ball to where his skills could best be utilized. Ball had sufficient time on his hands to be able to get married in November of 1917. On the 11th of January 1918 he was trade tested and found to be a "Skilled" Platelayer. This qualification, along with the need for railway construction workers, resulted in him being "found suitable for posting to Royal Engineer Railway Troops." This fortunate state of affairs allowed him to transfer to the Railway Construction Troops Depot, Royal Engineers where he was assigned to "C" Company. He was now 348694 Sapper James Herbert Ball, R.E. He reported to his new unit at Longmoor Camp on the 13th of January 1918. On the day after his arrival at Longmoor Camp he was given a medical evaluation. The examining officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps certified Ball as fit to work as a Platelayer on "Home Service Only" [3].

Sapper Ball was officially classified as a "Skilled" Platelayer on the 13th of February 1918 and on the 20th of February he was sent to the Transportation Troops Base Depot in France. He remained at the Base Depot until the 22nd of June 1918 when he was posted to the 10th Railway Construction Company, Royal Engineers [4].

Ball served in France until the 22nd of February 1919 when he was authorized 14 days of leave in the United Kingdom. He returned to his unit in France after his leave and remained with the 10th Railway Construction Company until the 29th of October 1919 when he was despatched to England and assigned to the Royal Engineers Training Battalion at Brompton Barracks in Chatham, Kent in preparation for his demobilization. He then was issued Regimental Number WR/279511 [5]. Ball proceeded on the 31st October 1919 to a Dispersal Unit in Liverpool for demobilization. He was transferred to the Class "Z" Army Reserve on the 27th of November 1919.

For his service during the Great War of 1914-1918, Lance Corporal James Herbert Ball was awarded the British Wart Medal and Victory Medal [6].

Lance Corporal Ball was not entitled to a mentioned
in despatches oak leaf on the Victory Medal


a. Promotions: James Herbert Ball received the following promotions or changes in rank during his time in service:

Date of Promotion or Appointment

Rank or Position

21 February 1916

Private, The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment

3 September 1917

Private, Machine Gun Corps

31 January 1918

Sapper, Royal Engineers

1 June 1919

Lance Corporal, Royal Engineers [7]

b. Conduct: Ball’s service records show no evidence that he received any Good Conduct Badges during his time in service. His records do show that his name never appeared in his unit’s defaulters book. It may be assumed that he was never convict by court martial for any offence.


a. Education: Lance Corporal Ball’s service papers do not indicate that he earned any Certificates of Education during his time in service:

b. Qualifications: Ball earned the following qualifications during his time in service.



21 February 1916

"Proficient" Platelayer (by virtue of his civilian trade)

13 February 1918

"Skilled" Platelayer (from a trade test)


The following medical information was taken from Lance Corporal Ball’s service records during his time in service:


Date of



Period of Hospitalization

or Treatment


21 Feb 1916

Medical examination on enlistment

Noted to have
Defective lower teeth

Longmoor Camp

14 Jan 1918

Medical Examination

Determined to be fit
to work as a Platelayer


24 Nov 1919

Medical Examination

Prior to demobilization. Ball made no claim for disability


James Herbert Ball married Frances Brooke in St. Peter’s Church at 2 St. Peter’s Road in Birkdale, Southport, Lancashire on the 20th of November 1917. After their marriage the Balls took up residence at 153 Liverpool Road in Birkdale. Mrs. Ball lived at this address while her husband was away on active service. Ball’s service papers do not indicate that they had any children while he was in the Army.


Lance Corporal Ball was issued his Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity at Liverpool on the 31st of October 1919. The certificates indicated that his Pay and Record Offices would be at Chatham and that in case of an emergency he would rejoin the Colours at Longmoor. Ball was transferred to the Class "Z" Army Reserve on demobilization on the 27th of November 1919. His total service was reckoned as shown in the tables below:


Period of Service

Army Reserve

21 February 1916 to 2 September 1917


3 September 1917 to 12 January 1918

Longmoor Camp

13 January 1918 to 19 February 1918


20 February 1918 to 29 October 1919


30 October 1919


31 October 1919 to 27 November 1919


Period of Service

Home Service (from date of Muster)

199 days

Service Abroad

1 year and 252 days

Total Service (from date of Attestation)

3 years and 280 days

Total Service (from date of Muster)

2 years and 86 days


Other than his stated intended place of residence at 203 New Road in Birkdale, nothing is known about Lance Corporal Ball’s life after his demobilization from the Army in 1919. It can be assumed that he returned to The Cheshire Lines Committee to resume his work with the railway as a platelayer.


The 1901 British Census verifies that James Herbert Ball was born in Birkdale, Lancashire. The census record shows the following details:*

Civil Parish:


Ecclesiastical Parish:

St. Peters, Birkdale

Parliamentary Borough or Division:

Southport, S.W. Lancashire

Administrative County:


At the time of the 1901 Census, James Herbert Ball was 8 years old and living with his parents at 183 Kew Road in Birkdale, Lancashire. His father, James Ball, had been born in Southport and was 31 years of age. James Ball's employment status is listed as "undefined" on the census form. Young James's mother, Jane Ball, had been born in Manchester, Lancashire and was 28 years old at the time of the census. Her occupation is listed as "Stone Mason" and her employment status is shown as "worker." This seems rather odd. In all likelihood the occupation and employment status of James and Jane Ball were reversed either on the original census record or in the Public Record Office transcription of the record.

In additions to James Herbert, James and Jane Ball had four other children: Ada, 6 years old; Alice, 4 years old; William, 2 years old; and Robert, 6 months old. All of the Ball children had been born in Birkdale.

* PRO Reference. RG Number, Series RG13, Piece 3533, Folio 155, Page 37, Schedule Number 202.



1. ADDISON, G.H. The Works of the Royal Engineers in the European War, 1914-1918. MISCELLANEOUS. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1926.

2. BANKS, A. A Military Atlas of the First World War. Heinemann Educational Books, London, 1975.

3. LETTS, C. Roadbook of Britain. Charles Letts and Company Limited, London, 1977.

4. MERRIAM WEBSTER. Geographical Dictionary, Springfield, MA, 1997.


Soldier’s service papers consisting of the following documents:

a. Short Service Attestation.
b. Descriptive Report on Enlistment.
c. Medical History.
d. Trade and Special Qualifications.
e. Casualty Form – Active Service.
f. Recruits Preliminary Trade Test Card (Army Form W.3253).
g. Letter dated 14 August 1917 from the Chief Engineer Cheshire Lines Committee to the Recruiting Officer, Southport.
h. Certification to work in the trade of Platelayer.
i. Page from Company Defaulters’ Book.
j. Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity.
k.Statement as to Disability.
l. Statement of Service.
m.Medal Index Card.


The Monthly Army List, April 1915.


[1] A platelayer is one who lays, fixes and attends to the rails of a railway.

[2] This medical category indicated that the man was able to march, that he was able to see to shoot, that he could hear well and stand active service conditions.

[3] The certification form filled out by the R.A.M.C. officer is rather confusing. The form contains two preprinted lines shown in bold below. A third typewritten line was added to the form under the words "Any Theatre Overseas. The "Home Service Only" line obviously was ignored, as Ball was subsequently sent to France in February of 1918.

North West Europe only

Any Theatre Overseas

Home Service Only

[4] The 10th Railway Construction Company had been in France since November of 1914 and remained there until after the Armistice in November of 1918.

[5] This is his fourth Regimental Number during his time in service.

[6] The Victory Medal is in the author’s collection.

[7] Ball was appointed a Paid Lance Corporal.