May 19 2013 Latest news:
By Sam Russell
Friday, February 1, 2013
She will never forget the moment she was told her father was dead.
Janet Tovell was three years old when her father Christopher Ball died in 1942, as the passenger ship SS Laconia was torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast of Africa.
Mr Ball was returning from service in Egypt on medical grounds, where he had been a trooper with the Royal Armoured Corps, when the ship was hit.
His family did not find out what had happened until they got a letter through the door a year later.
The horror turned her mother’s hair white, and when Mrs Tovell married years later she chose St Nicholas Church in Bradwell as the venue to be close to her father – because her father’s name is engraved on a brass plaque in the church to fallen servicemen.
But great grandmother Mrs Tovell, 74, was upset the memorial remained hidden in the confines of the church as she believes her father’s story should not be forgotten.
Now – more than 70 years after her father’s death – she says she can begin to “close the book” on the trauma now that Bradwell is to get a bonafide war memorial.
For after years of campaigning, the village is to get a 7ft monument in Church Walk, sculpted from ruby red granite - and Christopher Ball will be one of the names to appear on it.
Mrs Tovell, of St Benet’s Road, Gorleston, said: “I feel this will put things to rest a bit really. I think this will be a lot better as people don’t go into church like they used to.
“People don’t see those two brass plaques any more and it will be nice as people will see it. I think my family feel we can close the book on things a bit more.”
She added her father was a “well-loved man” and well-known as people were “very close in the old days”.
Christopher Ball was born on December 15, 1909 in Belton, and lived in Bradwell for most of his life.
He married Ethel on December 26, 1931 and they had daughter Janet.
After time working on the roads for the council and on a boat with his skipper uncle, he enlisted soon after the second world war began.
He was initially refused on medical grounds - as he had a rare condition that meant he could not sweat – but was passed fit a few months later. His condition is what brought him to be on the fateful SS Laconia, heading home early when it was torpedoed on September 12, 1942.
Of more than 3,500 passengers aboard, just 1,041 survived. Mr Ball was 32.
“He would have been in the very lower decks,” said Mrs Tovell. “The U-boat leader wasn’t sure what to do to begin with, but when he heard them practicing with the deck gun that was it.
“My father was never heard of since and I imagine he went down with the ship.”
She said they did not know for certain what had happened until a letter came through the door a year later.
“My mother got up the following morning and I screamed and cried,” said Mrs Tovell, “her hair had gone white and that was the shock of losing my dad.
“I have recollections of going to Gorleston railway station when we last saw him off, and saying ‘cheerio’ to him.
“We never saw him after that.”
Mr Ball was awarded three medals posthumously – the 1939-45 Star, War Medal 1939-45 and Africa Star – and his name is also on the memorial at Bovington Camp military base in Dorset.
Mrs Tovell still has many letters written by her father during the war, and cherishes them.
“They will always be kept in the family,” she said. “He was religious and thought the world of his family.
“They’re all very passionate about his family and he absolutely hated war.”
The letters were written to her mother, to his nanny Olive Ball and to his three brothers and one sister.
And Mrs Tovell said she is determined to go to the dedication ceremony for the new memorial.
“I wouldn’t be able to walk down there, but I’ve got family who would take me,” she said.
The memorial is taking shape with the help of Colin Smith Monumental Masons, of Hammond Road, Great Yarmouth.
It is anticipated it will be ready around March 2013, ahead of an official ceremony to unveil it to the village.
Nearly 3,000 people have supported a Facebook campaign demanding safety improvements on the A47 near Dereham set up after the latest fatal crash.
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