This article originally appeared on the British Medals Forum and is a fascinating piece of research. For anyone who watched British WWII movies the name Lord Haw Haw will be familiar. This story is about the career of Lewis Ball who was the Prison Governor who presided over the hanging of William Joyce who was Lord Haw Haw. I am very grateful to Lloyd of the BMF for giving me permission to reproduce this article. Lloyd has been mentioned on this blog before when he assisted Bill and me locate the family of Lieutenant Commander George Raymond Grandage.
For anyone with an interest in medals I highly recommend becoming a member of the British Medals Forum.
On 27 October 1903, when he was aged just 16, Ball was registered as a Temporary Boy Clerk in the Civil Service (London Gazette 30 October 1903). On 15 November 1907, by which time he was 20, Ball joined the Prison Service with his appointment as a Second Class Clerk in a Prison (London Gazette 3 December 1907). With a break for war service, he would be a member of the Prison Service for the next forty five years.
Lewis Ball’s first prison was HMP Knutsford, in Cheshire, where he served from February 1908 to March 1912 (with a four-month stint in 1910, possibly for training, in the Home Office). From March 1912, still as a Second Class Clerk, Lewis Ball was posted to HMP Liverpool (also known as Walton Gaol), a larger and tougher establishment than Knutsford.
After the outbreak of war in 1914, severe pressure was put on prison staff by enlistments into the armed forces. Lewis Ball, aged 27, did not immediately enlist. In the last quarter of 1914 he married Florence Steel in Tonbridge, and moved her back to Liverpool. In December 1915 Lewis Ball presented himself to the army, and was attested and examined. He then went back to Liverpool Prison to await his call up.
Ball was mobilized on 24 March 1916 and was appointed into the ranks as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. He served in the UK to 25 October 1916, when he was sent to the Western Front for his first war.
Arriving in France on 26 October 1916, Gunner Ball was posted to 13th Siege Battery RGA. The battery’s services during the time that Gunner Ball served at the front have not been researched, however it is certain that he would have seen considerable action, and also endured the conditions of the miserable winter of 1916/17.
Although he remained a Gunner, Lewis Ball must have exhibited some leadership qualities because in April 1917 he applied for a commission in the RGA. In July, as the majority of the batteries on the Western Front were concentrating for the terrible Battle of Ypres, Gunner Ball was ordered back to the UK to attend an Officer Cadet Unit.
After eight and a half months’ active service, Lewis Ball was back in the UK by 13 July 1917. After a spot of leave in Tonbridge and possibly a spell in hospital (parts of his service papers are illegible), Ball joined an Officer Cadet Unit at Fort Brockhurst, Gosport, on 24 October 1917.
Lewis Cecil Ball was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery on 1 April 1918. Although the German offensive was raging on the Western Front, from his papers it appears that Ball never returned to the Great War – even though his British War Medal and Victory Medal are named to him as an officer. Instead, after a further three months in the UK, Second Lieutenant Ball was posted to India – and indirectly, to his second war.
Ball embarked at Southampton on 4 July 1918, and disembarked at Bombay on 13 August 1918. By 18 December 1918, Second Lieutenant Ball was with 1 Mountain Artillery Brigade – armed with small mountain guns rather than the siege guns he was used to – at Peshawar, then on the north-west frontier of India. He was posted to 6 British Mountain Battery, and was with the battery when the Third Afghan War formally erupted on 6 May 1919.
One of the precursors to the Third Afghan War was the Amritsar massacre in May 1919 – an event that was to have minor repercussions for Lewis Ball more than twenty years later. While 6 British Mountain Battery took part in the campaign in 1919, it does not appear to have been heavily engaged and owing to the number of batteries on lines of communication and guard duties the activities of the battery are not clear from available records. The campaign was certainly difficult for all participants, with the majority of casualties being caused by the climate and poor sanitary conditions.
Second Lieutenant Ball was absent from his unit for one week during the campaign – the reason cannot be deciphered from his service record. He was certainly present with the battery in the field on 24 June 1919, but shortly after received demobilization orders and made the long journey from the north-west frontier to Bombay, where he embarked for the UK on 20 July 1919.
Lewis Ball was disembodied on 27 September 1919 and transferred to the Reserve. His date of promotion to Lieutenant was dated, strangely, 1 October 1919. For his three years of service, Ball received the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the India General Service Medal 1908 with the clasp ‘Afghanistan NWF 1919’. The ribbons would be worn frequently.
Unlike a lot of men returning after several years away, Lieutenant Lewis Ball had a job waiting for him, in the Prison Service. He was now aged 32, and in addition to his pre-war service as a clerk in two prisons, had broadened his experience of life and men – and discipline - with active service in two wars. With effect from 1 January 1920, Lewis Ball was appointed a Governor, Class 5 – the lowest of the five ranks of prison governors – of HM Prison Usk, in Monmouthshire.
As the senior officer, prison governors were responsible for all aspects of prison life, particularly security and the maintenance of prison discipline, and supervision of the prison officers. A daily inspection of the prison appears to have been a major part of the governors’ routine. They could reward or punish prisoners, were responsible for ensuring that prisoners’ mail was read and, because of their statutory responsibilities, any overnight absence from the prison had to be approved by the Prison Commissioners in London. The governors were almost as institutionalised as the prisoners themselves. One of the mandatory duties of prison governors was to attend executions – hangings – and Lewis Ball witnessed many of these in his long career.
At the time Lewis Ball was appointed a prison governor, the Prison Service of England and Wales was going through one of its regular reviews. English Prisons Today – Being the Report of the Prison System Enquiry Committee, published in 1922, probably gives as good a snapshot as can be obtained on the system in which Lewis Ball became a very senior officer. The Enquiry Committee was very critical of Prison Governors, particularly the process for their selection and the “almost exclusively disciplinarian attitude” of the Governors themselves.
The Committee apparently endorsed the view of a chaplain that men promoted from within the Prison Service to be governors were ‘toadies to those above them and bullies to those below’. The Committee concluded: ‘Generally, we should say that governors are men of limited knowledge, disciplinarians, lacking in imagination, sceptical about new proposals, but conscientious and just.’ It is impossible to know where Lewis Ball fitted into all this, although in a footnote to the report the Committee noted:
Recently a number of civil service clerks connected with the prison system have been made governors. This has aroused considerable criticism among prison officers, who complain that they have no knowledge of discipline duties. This clearly was a reference to men such as Ball.
Promoted Governor Class 4 in April 1921, Ball remained at Usk until April 1922, when the prison was closed. It was at Usk that Ball oversaw his first hanging – William Sullivan was a 41 year old convicted murderer that went to the scaffold on 23 March 1922. Sullivan was the first of more than thirty murderers, spies and traitors that Lewis Ball was to see die at the end of a rope, at Liverpool, Birmingham, Strangeways, Pentonville and Wandsworth.
From Usk, Lewis Ball was transferred back to his old prison, Liverpool. He had left in 1916 to go to war as a Gunner; six years later he was back as the Guv. Promoted Governor Class 3 in May 1925, Ball was transferred to Preston. Another promotion, to Governor Class 2 in December 1929, and after another four years, in May 1931 Ball was sent to Birmingham.
On 21 March 1935, aged 47, Lewis Ball was promoted to Governor Class 1, the most senior governor rank in the prison service. With the promotion came another transfer, to Strangeways Prison, Manchester. While at Strangeways, Ball oversaw the hanging of one of the most sensational murderers of his day, Dr Buck Ruxton, who had killed, mutilated and dismembered his wife and her maid. Many members of the public were convinced of Ruxton’s innocence, and a petition urging clemency was signed by more than 10,000 people. Lewis Ball saw Buck Ruxton executed on 12 May 1936.
The outbreak of the Second World War brought significant challenges to the Prison Service. For the first time, prisons came under air attack, and there were significant staff shortages and other pressures. Strangeways was in an area assessed as likely to come under air attack, and many of the prisoners with short sentences remaining were released.
The most dangerous place for the Prison Service was London – and this is where Lewis Ball was to serve from March 1940 to the end of the war, in Pentonville, Wormwood Scrubs and finally Wandsworth. Ball was made Governor of Pentonville in March 1940, serving there only until 1942 when the prisoners were moved out and most of the buildings handed over to the army ‘for the duration’.
While at Pentonville, Ball was present at the execution of Udham Singh. Singh, an Indian independence activist and revolutionary was hanged on 31 July 1940 for the assassination of Sir Michael O’Dwyer, GCIE, KCSI, former Governor of the Punjab. It is not known if Ball wore the ribbon of the India General Service Medal when he attended Udham Singh’s execution. If so, Singh should have recognised it as he was a recipient of the medal himself. Singh is still regarded as a patriot and hero in India; his body was eventually exhumed from Pentonville and repatriated to India in 1974.
Carl Meier, Jose Waldeburg and Charles van der Kieboom, also hung at Pentonville under Lewis Ball’s eyes, were three of sixteen men executed in the UK for spying in the Second World War. Waldeburg was German while Meier and van der Kieboom were Dutchmen, all of whom had landed on the South Coast and were caught almost immediately in possession of a short wave radio transmitter and a quantity of pound notes. They were tried under the Treachery Act 1940, and convicted in November 1940. Waldeburg and Meier were hanged by the famous hangman Thomas Pierrepoint (who would have been well-known to Ball) on 10 December 1940. Kieboom went to the gallows a week later.
When Pentonville was put into mothballs, Lewis Ball was transferred to another famous institution, HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs. He served as Governor at the Scrubs for three years, from January 1942 to January 1945, when he went to his last prison – Wandsworth.
Lewis Ball was Governor at Wandsworth from 1 February 1945 until 1947. Wandsworth had been bombed repeatedly and in March 1945, not long after Ball took over, the prison was hit in the penultimate V2 rocket attack on London. The V2 crashed and exploded near the deputy governor’s house.
The years 1945 to 1947 saw no fewer than 15 hangings at Wandsworth, which Ball as Governor was obliged to attend. The murderers included Robert Blaine, executed in December 1945 for the murder of Captain John Ritchie of the Canadian Army, and the Polish black marketeers Marion Grondkowski and Henryk Malinowski, executed on the same day in April 1946 for the shooting of ‘Russian Robert’ Martirosoff.
Two men were also hung for treason at Wandsworth under the watchful eye of Lewis Ball. They were tried and convicted under the Treason Act of 1351. John Amery, the son of a cabinet minister, had made broadcasts from Germany and had exhorted Allied prisoners to fight for the Germans on the Russian front. Famously, his trial lasted just eight minutes and he was hung on 19 December 1945 after a stay of several weeks at Wandsworth.
William Joyce, nicknamed ‘Lord Haw Haw’ because of his accent and trademark ‘Gairmany calling’ at the start of his radio propaganda broadcasts, was perhaps the most famous British traitor of the war – despite being a US citizen. Joyce was extremely complimentary of the care and attention given to him by the Prison Service over his last months, and was transferred to Wandsworth not long before his execution. He was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at 9.00 am on Thursday, 3 January 1946.
After being a prison governor from 1920, in 1947, aged 60, Lewis Ball was promoted to Assistant Director in the Prison Service, at Horseferry Road, London. He was one of four assistant directors, serving under six directors, the whole under the Chairman of the Prison Commission. It must have been quite a change for Ball, although the salary – about £1300 – was very generous.
Lewis Ball worked as an assistant director until his retirement in 1950. As a member of the Prison Service during the Second World War, Lewis Ball was eventually awarded the Defence Medal. It was a small enough reward, as Ball received no Jubilee or Coronation medals, nor any other honours, for his many years of service.
Although a considerable amount of information has been unearthed on Lewis Ball’s official duties as a senior prison official, no information has been found on his character or personality. Most prison governors were hard and even harsh men, and tough disciplinarians. With his very long service in some of the hardest prisons in England, Lewis Ball may have been a hard man. Or, coming as he did from the clerical staff, he may have been reform minded, within the parameters of the day. Regardless, he must have had a strong sense of duty and been a strong leader.
It is not known yet whether Lewis and Florence Ball had children, or whether Florence survived her husband. Lewis Cecil Ball appears to have remained in London after his retirement; his death was registered in Croydon in the third quarter of 1966, when he was aged 79.