THOMAS MURDY BALL ~ WW1 Tunnelling Company officer’s medal reunited.


The second of four NZ Engineer Tunnelling Company medals sent to MRNZ by Michael M. of Invercargill, has been reunited with the recipient’s grand nephew. (see also Post 01 Jan 16 – 21418 George Ogden)

The medal was named to 46223  SJT T. J. BALL  N.Z.E.F. has been reunited with descendant family thanks to the assistance of a UK based genealogist.  It is to be noted that the second initial on the medal is in error and should have been “M” rather than “J” making the medals even more unique.  Such errors were not uncommon due to the large numbers issued.

46223 Cpl. Thomas Murdy Ball, NZ Engineers – 1917

Thomas Murdy Ball was born in November 1887 in Auckland.  During his early working years Thomas was a general labourer in the Auckland area.  He later took his Civil Engineering exams and once successfully completed had gained employment as a junior engineer with the Public Works Department (PWD) in Wellington.

Thomas Ball was enlisted for WW1 service in Dec 1916.  Being a civil engineer, had very quickly transitioned from his enlistment rank of Sapper, to Corporal within days of entering Featherston Camp.  On completion of his basic training Cpl. Ball was assigned to the NZ Engineers Tunnelling Company.  HMNZT 84 Turakina left Wellington on 26 April for England with the 5th NZ Engineer Tunnelling Company Reinforcements on board.  On arrival at the end of May, the Engineers were transferred to the Engineers specialist training camp at Boscomb.  Cpl. Ball was then attached to the NZ Command Depot for an engineering project – the installation of heating in No.2 NZ General Hospital at Walton-on-Thames.  Being the project manager for the installation he was also promoted to Temporary Sergeant.  In early November his Temporary rank was made substantive and on the 17th he embarked for France.  Sgt.Ball was transferred from the Engineer Tunneling Company to the NZ Light Railway Operating Section.  Light Railway systems were installed by Engineers for moving men, equipment and ammunition to and from logistic dumps, to and from the battlefield.

After a year of Light Rail Operations with the NZ Engineers and the Royal Engineers 21st Light Rail Company, in October 1918 Sgt. Ball finally got  his first leave since his arrival.  While on leave in Paris Sgt. Ball contracted influenza, the effects of which were compounded as he also contracted pneumonia which resulted in his hospitalisation in a NZ Stationary Hospital at Alexandria, Egypt.  The Armistice effectively ending the war had come into effect on November 11th and as a result, Sgt. Ball was transferred to a hospital ship in January 1919 for early demobilization.  Sgt. Ball was discharged “no longer fit for active service” in April 1919 having completed 1 year 316 days on active service.  For his war service Sgt. Ball was awarded the British War Medal, 1914-18 and the Victory Medal.

British War Medal, 1914-18 of Sgt. Thomas Ball.

Thomas Ball recovered in due course and returned to his pre-war occupation as a civil engineer with the PWD (later to become the Ministry of Works) and was posted to Paeroa in the Waikato.  In 1920 Thomas married Margaret de Lindsay McCASKILL, a lady born in Hikutaia in the Coromandel in 1893 and who had been living in the Waikato. No family resulted from their union.  By 1928 Thomas and Margaret had been posted to the PWD in Stratford, and by 1935 they were living in South Dunedin where Thomas continued as a civil engineer.  By 1938 they had returned to the PWD in Wellington.

In 1939 Thomas, still with the PWD in Wellington, volunteered once more for active military service.  His engineering expertise was in high demand but regrettably his age now exceeded the enlistment limitation for overseas service (50).  It was considered however that Thomas’s value as an civil engineer was still very much required and so an exception was made for him to be re-enlisted but for Home Service duty only – Thomas was 55!  Thomas had remained on the Territorial Force (TF) roll as a Sergeant between the wars however his staus was to change markedly on re-enlistment as he was now a fully qualified civil engineer and had amassed considerable experience with the PWD over the previous some 20 years.   Thomas was re-called to active duty in April 1942.

WW2 ~ 2/29/344  Temporary Lieutenant Colonel T. M. BALL – NZE, DESC 

As a highly experienced civil engineer Thomas was assigned to the Defence Engineer Service Corps (DESC) which was based in Wellington.  His qualifications and extensive experience resulted in his being given Temporary Lieutenant Colonel rank.  With a new service number, 2/5C/13 Temp. Lt Col. Ball  found he was one of five LtCol. Engineers, all of whom were Directors of various departments within the DESC.  Expecting to be assigned an Army position, LtCol. Ball was made the Director of Works & Buildings for Air Force & Navy!

LtCol. Ball’s period of active Home Service was to be brief.  Ill-health had dogged him in recent years and together with stress that resulted from a security situation which bought him into conflict with his superiors, Lt.Col Ball took his untimely discharge in July 1942.  Following an extended period of convalescence at home, Thomas eventually returned to his former job with the PWD. 

Just five years on, 2/5C/13 Temp. T/LtCol. Thomas Murdy Ball died of a sudden heart attack at his Karori home in Wellington on 24 June 1949 – he was 62.  Margaret Ball passed away 23  years later in May 1972.

Finding the Ball ancestors

Tracing Thomas Ball’s descendants was greatly assisted by Rob Ball of Hucknall, Nottinghamshire whom had responded to one of the queries I had posted on an Ancestry family tree containing Thomas Murdy Ball.  A name like ‘MURDY’ makes research so much easier due to its uniqueness and as luck would have it, Rob had been working on the BALL family from Bulwell,  Nottingham.  Rob filled in the gaps – Thomas’s father was Richard Jennison BALL (1858-1930) was born in Bulwell and had married Clara MURDY (1860-1930) of Nottingham, at Hyston Green, Nottinghamshire in June 1885.  All references to Richard and Clara after this date had vanished from the English census records by 1890 which could only mean they had either died or emigrated.  A check of the most likely emigration destinations – Canada, Australia and New Zealand – resulted in Rob locating Richard and Clara Ball in Auckland.  Richard, Clara and Richard’s brother Thomas Frederick Ball had arrived in Auckland from England in 1886. 

Richard and Clara Ball had six children, five of whom survived; Ida Florence (1866-1964), Thomas Murdy, Reginald (1889-1937), Leonard (1893-1893), Elsie Priscilla (1895-1937) and Catherine Clara (1897-1986).  Richard, an engineer, had no doubt influenced and encouraged his sons to follow his lead as both Thomas and Reginald also became engineers.  Richard worked in Auckland until his death – both he and Clara died in Auckland in the 1930. 

Richard Ball’s brother Thomas Frederick Ball who had a travelled to NZ with he and Clara, also was married in Auckland, to Ada BARKER.  Their son Frank Mason Ball had married Amy Ann LYMAN and together had three daughters, one of whom was Faye Florence Ball, mother of Peter M. of Auckland.   

Peter M. is the great-grand nephew of Thomas Murdy Ball and now the proud owner of his great-grand uncle’s British War Medal.  He would very much like to reunite this medal with Thomas Ball’s Victory Medal – can you help to locate it?  If so please contact us at MRNZ.


My thanks again to Michael for sending MRNZ the Sgt. Ball’s medal, and to Rob Ball (Hucknall, UK) for his valuable assistance with our research.

The reunited medal tally is now 44.

Cpl. Thomas Murdy Ball, NZ Engineers – 1917