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George Ball (1891-?) and Leonard Ball (1893 – 1917) BROTHERS IN ARMS? REVISED VERSION

This is a revised version of the piece I wrote about George and Leonard Ball. More records have now come online and these give a better (but worse) picture of George although still unfinished. Can anybody add the missing part of the story?

George Ball (1891-?) and Leonard Ball (1893 – 1917) BROTHERS IN ARMS?

This is the story of two brothers. Their grandfather was James Ball, born in Ringstead in about 1831.  He was the son of Daniel and Phoebe Ball and most of that large family joined the military or looked for their fortunes in the New World. James was one of the few who stayed close to home.

James, together with his brothers Thomas, Samuel and Elisha, was baptised in Ringstead Church on September 12th 1841. He is aged 9 in the Census which preceded the baptism by a few months so he was born in about 1831/2. He left home early and I believe that he might be wrongly entered in the 1851 Census as John Ball, aged 19, born in Ringstead, a shepherd living-in at Wold Lodges in Tansor which is downstream on the Nene, on the other side of Oundle.

James married Emma Storks (or Stocks) from Riseley, some ten miles south of Ringstead, in Ringstead Church on 17th October 1855. Like his siblings, James had to leave Ringstead to find work, but he did not have to travel far, and was by 1861 a shepherd, like his father, living in Titchmarsh. He was with his wife Emma and their two children Phoebe and John who had both been born in Denford. The family had returned to Ringstead by 1871 and two further children Thomas and George have been born (all children now shown as born n Ringstead).

It is Thomas whose sons we are following here. He was born on 29th December 1865 and had a Methodist baptism on 6th May 1866.  It seems that his middle name was Samuel and he was sometimes known by this name. In the 1881 Census he is Samuel, aged 16, still living at home in the Ringstead High Street and working as a farm labourer. By 22nd April 1889, when he married Harriett Christiana Wright at Islip, he had become a bootmaker.

Pearce's Row was in the narrow lane on the left before the row of cottages. I think Church Street continued until the corner.

The couple moved to Pearce’s Row, Church Street, in Ringstead and by the 1891 Census they already had two children, Thomas Horace (1) and George James who was just one month old. By 1901 the family had moved to High Street in Moulton where Thomas was an army boot maker. There were two further children, Leonard who was born on 28th February 1893 and Emma born about 1897. The couple moved back nearer to home and in 1911 were living in Francis Street in the Westfields area of Raunds. Only their youngest children, Leonard who was 17 and unemployed and Emma (15) who was a “shoewoman girl”, were still at home.

Thomas junior and his younger brother, George James Ball, had already left home. It is George who we are following first. His story after the 1901 Census is a murky one and much of it I have found in retrospect as it is referred to in reports of later crimes.

The Northampton Mercury of 22nd March 1912 reported on the Kettering Divisional Petty Sessions where George  was charged with breaking into an auction mart in the old schoolroom in Corby between the 15th and 19th December 1911 and stealing a quantity of jewellery, valued at £105, the property of Leslie Ansel. We hear of the testimony of George's landlady in Corby and also from Police Sergeant Pinchen of the Sunderland Borough Police who stated that:

. . .while the prisoner was under arrest on a charge of deserting from the Army he confessed to the present charge.

On12th April George (aged 21) came before the Northamptonshire Quarter sessions and Inspector Dunn, who was a witness in the case against George, stated:

He was a native of Ringstead and had on several occasions enlisted, each time deserting and taking with him valuable property. The Witness [Inspector Dunn] held a warrant for his arrest in connection with the robbery of £50 worth of silver from the barracks of the Loyal Lancashire regiment.

The list of jewellery stolen was extensive:

. . . 247 gold rings, six long gold guards, eight gold bracelets, one rolled gold bracelet, eight gold chains, three gold pendants, one silver cigarette case, three silver matchboxes, eight long silver guards, 12 silver curb chains, 25 gold pins, nine silver brooches, and 16 watches.

At the first hearing there is evidence presented that George pawned at leat some of the jewellery in Kettering so he must have gone north soon after. After his arrest in Sunderland he was forcibly returned to Northamptonshire to answer for his previous crimes. George was travelling the country trying to get money wherever he could and it seems usually by criminal means.

George, as seems to have been his habit, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 months with hard labour.

After being released, George must have made his way down to Portsmouth, and enlisted again, this time in the Royal Navy. George James Ball born in Ringstead in Northamptonshire signed up for the Royal Navy on 25th November 1913. He had a union jack with “Unity” tattooed on his left forearm and a scar on the back of his left hand and a white scar on his chest.  We know that he was 5ft 8¾ inches with a chest size of 38¾inches with brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. (nearly all the military had grey eyes). He first served on Victory ll. This was the name given to the barracks and administrative base in Portsmouth.

He was given a “very good” character and ability rating on 31st December 1913 and moved to serve on a light cruiser, the HMS Liverpool on 7th May 1914 as a storekeeper.

It was at this point that something went wrong again for he was discharged with “Services No Longer Required” (D.S.N.L.R.) on 27th May just a few weeks after his move.  His record also notes the "Recovery of his GCB" [Good Conduct Badge]. He was sentenced to Confinement to Barracks (C.B.). There is some confusion because his official military service records give his date of birth as 26th March 1893 rather than 1891 but this is either a typographical error or perhaps part of George’s subterfuge.

Under The Prevention of Crimes Act of 1871 habitual criminals were recorded in detail in a register. These records are now online and in them we find “George James Ball, alias Thompson and George Ball”. His rank is now given as Stoker in the Royal Navy. He is shown as being born in Ringstead and to have a “flag, flower and UNITY” tattooed on his forearm and that at the end of his sentence he intended to live at 40 Pratt Road in Rushden, Northamptonshire.

From the Calendar of Prisoners tried at the Portsmouth Quarter Sessions of July 1914 we learn of the two thefts of which he had been accused. They both took place in May 1914 and included a suit of clothes, a vest, a cigarette case, a tie and a Post Office Savings Book.  He had been arrested on 29th May and as we have seen confined to barracks. He was charged on the 9th June and pleaded guilty at his trial on 9th July when he was sentenced to two concurrent terms of six months with hard labour.

Great Britain had entered the First World War on 4th August 1914 when George would have still been serving his sentence. He was released on 10th December 1914 so what happened to him after that? Did he sign up again or was he the George Ball from Peterborough Co-op who was appealing against being called up in 1917. Without another lead we may never know.

His brother, Leonard had a very different military career. When we left him in 1911 he was seventeen years old (but I think actually 18) and an unemployed shoehand living in Raunds. Late in the previous year Leonard had signed up for the Northamptonshire Regiment Special Reserve. He was 5ft 5¼ inches high, weighing 113 lbs. (8 st 1Ib). He had scars on both knees and one wonders if this was from his shoe work. He received a reference from Mr. Lawson from Adams Brothers who said he had worked there for three years but had had to be laid off because of “slackness of trade”. He was a private in the Special Reserve from 31st October 1910 until 30th March 1911 when he left to join the Royal Navy.

Like his brother, he started his training at Portsmouth (Victory ll) before joining various ships for periods of service returning to Portsmouth in between ships. He was a Stoker Second Class on the Renown (30/04/1911 – 23/06/1911); Hecla (22/09/1911 – 30/04/1912) Topaze (01/05/1912 – 31/12/1912) where he was made a Stoker First Class on 1st June 1912 and Princess Royal (14/11/1912 – 14/07/1916).

As we can see, Leonard served on the Princess Royal from the start of the war until 14th July 1916.  During this time, he had taken part in the Battles of Dogger Bank, Heligoland, Bight and the great Battle of Jutland. The Princess Royal went on to have a comparatively action free war but Leonard moved to the 10th Destroyer Flotilla of the Harwich Force He was first briefly on HMS Dido (09/09/1916 – 10/10/1916) which was the Depot Ship of the Flotilla and then HMS Myngs (11/10/1916 – 16/02/1917), before joining HMS Torrent (17/02/1917 – 23/12/1917).

HMS Torrent was part of the 10th Destroyer Flotilla of the Harwich Force. The Torrent was a brand new R Class destroyer and was the best type that the Royal Navy possessed.  Leonard must have been pleased to be working in the most modern engine room.

On the 4th June 1917, the Dover Patrol had bombarded the port of Ostend and Torrent along with other light cruisers destroyed and damaged German torpedo boats. Leonard was made an Acting Leading Stoker on 11th November 1917.

In the summer of 1917 Leonard had married Bertha Mary Skevington from Harrold, just across the border in Bedfordshire. He then went back to HMS Torrent which along with sister ships HMS Torrent and HMS Surprise sailed as part of a convoy. 

The Harwich Force destroyers formed part of the “Beef Run” convoys to and from the Netherlands. On this occasion they escorted the convoy to the Hook of Holland and waited near the Maas Light Buoy for it to return. At about 2pm on the morning of 23rd December they ran into a German minefield set to protect the port of Rotterdam and Torrent struck a mine and three other destroyers went to her aid. She struck another mine, however, and her sister ships Surprise and Tornado, trying to rescue the crew from the water also struck mines and sank. Radiant was undamaged and picked up men from the sea. 252 sailors died and only three men from the Torrent survived.

Among those lost was Leonard Ball. His body was never found and his death is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. He was twenty-four years old and had been in the Royal Navy for eight years.

His parents, Thomas and Harriett, had moved sometime after 1911 to 92 Queen Street in Rushden and it was there that they received the news of the death of their son. It seems that Leonard had been living in Pratt Street in Rushden but his new wife moved back to Harrold, perhaps to be with her family after Leonard’s death. They had only been married five months but had spent very little of this time together.

It was not surprising, therefore that Bertha remarried to John Drage in the summer of 1922 and moved to Bozeat and lived to be eighty-one years old.


I ought to add that the oldest brother, Thomas Horace Ball, born in 1889 in Ringstead was also a soldier in the First World War. In 1911 a Horrice[sic] Ball, aged 21, was a boarder with Jonathan and Miriam Ellis at 6 Woburn Place in Rushden. He was single and a shoemaker. I believe that in July-Sept 1911 he married Ada Ward (born 1893 in Northampton) in the Wellingborough District (which includes Rushden) but this is still to be confirmed.

He signed up with the 5th Royal West Surrey Regiment (Regimental No. 60528) and transferred to the 9th Middlesex Regiment, sometimes known as the Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex) Regiment (Regimental No.57010). He survived the war and Thomas and Ada are together at 14 Sartoris Road in Rushden in the 1925 Electoral Roll. So far I have been unable to find little else about his wartime experience and it may be his records are some of the many destroyed in a Second World War air strike.


England & Wales Crime, Prisons & Punishment 1770 -1935: Habitual Criminals Register 1914; A Calendar of Prisoners Tried at the General Quarter sessions July 1914 (

Northampton Mercury 12th April 1912 (

The Rushden Echo Friday 4th January 1918: Absent Voters Lists 1918 & 1919; 1925 Electoral Roll. (

Admiralty: Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services (ADM188/1121) National Archives (

UK, Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll 1914 -1919 (

Attestation of 6 Years Service: (

Roll of Honour- Northamptonshire – Rushden, (

Naval Casualties 1914-1919 (

HMS Torrent (

Various Censuses and Parish Registers ( and ).

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