No.470 – Sergeant Phillip James Ball MM – 44th Battalion
I have fought and died in the war to end all wars, have I died in vain? „
Phillip James Ball was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England in 1896 to Henry George & Emily Ball. Phillip’s father Henry had spent the years of 1883 to 1894 farming on the Nambucca River in New South Wales but had taken the family back to Birmingham by the time of Phillip’s birth. Phillip went to Schneild Street Boarding School in Birmingham but soon took after his father as he also became a farmer. Perhaps because of his father’s previous connection to Australia or because he had a sister living in Western Australia, Phillip left England for Australia in 1913.
After arriving in Western Australia he took up residence with his sister, Mrs Emily Smith of 104 Mandurah Rd, South Fremantle.
He soon joined the local 86th Militia and was well drilled in military matters when he enlisted into the AIF on 11 January 1916. As he was only 19 Phillip needed the consent of his parents or guardian. As his parents were in England, his sister Emily signed the consent forms.
He was given a medical examination and was found to be 5 feet 5 inches in height; weight of 122 lbs; chest measurement of 31-34 inches; dark complexion; blue eyes & light hair. His religious denomination was listed as Baptist.
After being passed fit Phillip was initially assigned to No.46 Depot and in February to C Company of the newly forming 44th Battalion. The 44th Battalion would spend the next few months training, mainly around their camp at Claremont Show grounds and also Osborne Rifle Range. This training continued until 6 June when the battalion embarked for service overseas aboard the Suevic. His sister Emily was on the wharf to farewell Phillip on his journey.
The Suevic arrived at Plymouth England on 21 July 1916, whereupon the men of the 44th were sent to the Salisbury Plains. This would be their home for the next four months as they trained for service in France. In early November Phillip was sent to hospital with bronchitis though his stay in hospital was short and he was back with his battalion when they embarked for France on 25 November 1916.
The 44th Battalion was sent to the trenches near Armentieres, and they remained in this region for the next few months as they became accustomed to front line conditions. The 44th Battalion took part in their first major role in March 1917 when they launched a raid on the German position at Grande Porte Egal Farm. This raid was only partially successful.
The battalion was then sent to the Ploegsteert Wood sector where they would soon take part in the Battle of Messines. The 44th launched raids on the German positions prior to the big attack, and they took a large role in the later phase of the successful Messines assault. Phillip was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery in this action though unfortunately no actual recommendation survives.
In July 1917 he was promoted to Lance Corporal and in August to Corporal. After surviving the 44th’s actions during Third Ypres, Philip was promoted to Lance Sergeant in November, and Sergeant in January 1918.
In January, February and early March 1918, the 44th Battalion were in the Warneton sector, a very muddy battlefield. They were in this position when the Germans launched their massive March offensive which broke through the British line. The 44th battalion, as part of the 3rd Division, were among the first Australians to be sent to the Somme to try and stem the flow of this advance.
On the night of 28 March 1918, the 44th were in the vicinity of Sailly-Laurette, and were advancing to find the Germans exact location when the Germans spotted them and let out a stream of machine gun fire. After the action was over, several men including Phillip could not be found. It later transpired that he had been killed by the German fire.
His exact grave location was not known but post war his body was located and is today buried at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretoneux, Plot 111.E.1. Phillip’s parents, devastated by the loss of their son, chose perhaps one of the most poignant epitaphs seen on the Western Front. "I have fought and died in the war to end all wars, have I died in vain?”
His parents received all of Phillip’s personal effects and also his war medals. Phillip is not forgotten as his grave is regularly visited. In July 2010 when Andrew Pittaway visited Phillip's grave there was already a wreath placed there by the students of McKillop College.
Many thanks to Andrew Pittaway for sharing this story and the image of Phillip's grave. Thanks to the Australian War Memorial for the portrait of Phillip.