Letters an important part of a soldier's life

Name: Fred Ball
Date: 1916-1917
Unit: 30th Battalion AIF
Location: France, Belgium

For most soldiers in World War I letters were an important part of their life. Many wrote long accounts of battles and complained when mail from home didn't reach them.

L/Cpl Fred Ball was no exception. He was a good correspondent who kept in touch with home on a regular basis, taking the opportunity of a lull in the fighting to scribble a few words whenever he could.

In August 1916 he wrote to his parents and sisters describing a battle in which he had been involved and how some of his mates had been killed.

"I am taking the opportunity of a day's spell to acquaint you of how things in general is going among us."

"Well, I told you in my last letter that we were waiting orders to go in action again. This took place two days after writing when our Brigade took part in an attack on the enemy trenches. Throughout the day our artillery heavily bombarded the "Skoots" and at about 5pm the attack was launched. The 31st, 32nd Batts made the charge and forced their way to the third line of enemy trenches, and to do this, they fought like demons.

"Our Batts duty was to convey ammunition etc over No Man's Land to the other two Batts. After holding on for twelve hours, orders were sent along to retire. This took place, and all that was left of our Boys reached our front line just on daylight. Our casualties were great but I think the "Skoots" fared extremely worse than we did. Similar charges by other Brigades on our right were also launched but our Brigade was credited with making the greatest advance. When our boys had to retire we naturally thought the attack was a failure, but later on was notified that the greatest of successes were achieved. I suppose the idea was to weaken other fronts and for us to do the slaughter, while a more important advance was made elsewhere.

"According to the war correspondent the whole of Gallipoli was nothing to be compared with the charges that were made on this particular night. It was the night of the 19th July and if my memory serves me rightly it was Emma's 20th birthday, if so it will be a date that will be easily remembered.

"Probably ere this letter reaches you, the casualty list will be reported but nevertheless I will mention the names of a few whom you may know. The first killed in the Company was Harry (Sol) Brien of Wickham. He met his death two days before the charge. B Company was on a fatigue duty conveying material etc to the front line preparatory to the charge. The means of conveyance of such was done by pushing small trucks on a two-feet gauge tramway. Well it was Sol's, Max Arkell's, Charlie McCloskey's and my turn to push the truck. Well, we started off and had only gone about 5 minutes when over came one of Fritz's "Whiz-bang" shells and landed right near us, the result being that Sol was killed right out and Max Arkell stopped a small piece of shrapnel in the back. Charlie and I must have been very fortunate because we came out of it without even getting a scratch. On the night of the charge Eric Arkell (a Brother to Max) was killed right out in an endeavour to cross No Man's Land with material. A party of us hopped the parapet together when one of Fritz's machine guns opened up on us and Eric had the misfortune to fall a victim. Later on Ted King (our Poet) had his leg broken with machine gun fire.

"These boys belonged to our section and are all on the group photo so if you have a look at it you will know who they are. I think they are all that you know but if there are any more you will find them in the casualty list. After the retirement we got relieved and had two days spell and again moved into another section of trenches. We were in there for 10 days and were again relieved last night. Nothing of importance transpired during this tour of duty with the exception that Eddie (Soss) Rees got hit in the back with a ricocheted Bullet. Didn't see him but by all accounts it wasn't very serious so probably he will get a nice little spell through it.

"Max Arkell is OK again and has come back with us. We are having a couple of days spell, so I don't know where the next move will be. So much for the war news."

L/Cpl Ball was wounded and spent some time in the 22nd General Hospital recovering early in 1917. He returned to his unit but was killed on 23 October 1917 during the defence of the Ypres salient. His death is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial which bears the names of men who were lost without trace during the fighting.

Comrades often wrote to families to describe for them how their loved ones had met their end. On this occasion Fred's mate T.H. Davies waited several months before he could bring himself to write on such a painful topic.

"Just a few lines in regards to poor Fread. I have been going to write to you on two or three occasions but it is just as hard for me to write this letter as it is for you to read it. Well Mrs Ball I suppose you would want the truth as Fread really did meet his end. It is hard for me to explain but I will do my best.

"It was on the 23rd of October about midnight Fread and myself had been away all that Evening carrying another wounded mate out of the line. We were not in the actual firing line about a mile behind it in a reserve trench and when we got back we had a bit of tea and during that time we were severely shelled by the Germans and had many casualties so we got orders from the officer commanding to shift ourselves to another part of the trench which we did. Fread, two other chaps and myself went about a hundred yards further along and dug ourselves a bit of a trench which we made fairly comfortable. That would be about seven o'clock at night.

"There was nothing doing that night so we decided to have a bit of a sleep and it was about midnight when we were all asleep that a shell came right in on top of us. Well the next thing I knew that I was buried and of course considerably stunned. Well I managed to get my head out and sing out for help which we soon got and started to dig the other chaps out. One was alright, the other had his shoulder torn away and poor Fread was killed.

"Well Mrs Ball he never knew what death was as he was killed instantly and while asleep. It is very sad as no one will miss him more than myself as he was a mate and a friend to me and well liked throughout the Battalion. I was not there when he was buried but I made enquiries and was told that he had a good burial and a decent cross put over his grave. So Mrs Ball I hope he has gone where only brave men go and that he gave all a soldier could give and gave it fighting for his country and I sincerely hope your grief will soon be healed which I know will be very hard.

I remain Fread's sincere friend,

T.H. Davies.

(No changes have been made to the spelling of the original letters.)

The material for this article was supplied by Maria Graham of New South Wales

Last updated: 16 November 2022

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2022), Letters an important part of a soldier's life, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 3 October 2023, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/australians-wartime/letters-important-part-soldiers-life
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