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    Ballale Island (Ballalae, Ballalai) Western Province Solomon Islands

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USN October 11, 1943

Location
Lat 6° 58' 60S Long 155° 52' 60E  Ballale Island is located in the northern Solomon Islands. To the south is the Shortland Island Group (Shortland Islands). To the north is the southern coast of Bougainville. Today, Ballale is located near the international border between the Solomon Islands and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (Bougainville Province) of Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The island has at least five different spellings, all pronounced "Bal-a-lai". In the Alu language spoken in the Shortland Islands, phonetically spelled 'Ballalai' or 'Balalai'. In the 1880s the name of the island was incorrectly recorded as 'Ballalei', During the British colonial era and until at least 1956, the island was spelled 'Ballalae'. During World War II, the island was spelled 'Ballale'.

Prewar History
Ballale means border place in the local Alu language. As long as the people of the Shortland Islands can remember, this island was uninhabited. According to local legend, a strange blue light was often observed over the island. Therefore, the island was avoided and traditionally, no one lived there. Traditionally, war parties from Buka Island would used this uninhabited island to cannibalize their victims after sucessfull tribal warfare and headhunting raids to Choiseul Island. To the people of the Shortland Islands, Ballale was considered "sacu-sacu" (haunted).

In 1901, englishman Sam Atkinson purchased the island as free-hold owner. He planted a coconut plantation harvesting copra that eventually encompassed a total of 307 acres. Atkinson and his wife Edith lived and worked on the island. Laborers from Shortland Islands and as far away as Choiseul were employed to harvest copra and maintain the plantation. The plantation included the Atkinson family home, copra drying sheds and living quarters for workers. Copra was exported by boat.

When Sam Atkinson died in 1931, Edith continued to manage the plantation. Even as the war approached, she remained on Ballale, until in early 1942 when the British colonial government ordered all Europeans to be evacuated from the Solomons Islands. Edith departed the plantation hurridly by boat then aboard a ship to Australia where she remained for the remainder of the war years.

the Shortland Islands evacuated in early 1942 just before the Japanese occupied Faisi Island and the rest of the Shortland Islands.

Wartime History
On November 3, 1942 personnel from the Imperial Japanese Navy 18th Construction Battalion landed on Ballale to begin building an airstrip with a contingent of 370 people, augmented later by 517 British POWs and local laborers. The Japanese code named Ballale Island and Ballale Airfield "RXZ".

Ballale Airfield (Ballale, Ballalai)
Located on Ballale Island spanning the length of the island

Japanese vessels at Ballale Island
1942-1943

Allied missions against Ballale
January 16, 1943 - May 28, 1944

The island was bypassed by the Allies. After the war, the Australian Army 7th Infantry Battalion, including Lt. General V. A. H. Sturdee (1st Army) and Brigadier A. W. Potts (23 Infantry Brigade) toured the island on November 10, 1945. Australians immediately located the grave of 57 POWs buried in shallow trenches. An atrocities commission was carried out on the island, that led to the discovery of a mass grave of 436 bodies were exhumed with artifacts identifying them as British artillerymen. The remains were re-interred in individual graves at Bomama War Cemetery near Port Moresby. The remainder of the 517 British POWs have never been found.

F4U-1A Corsair Bureau Number 17527
Pilot Ewing MIA September 16, 1943 over Ballale

TBF-1 Avenger Bureau Number 06452
Pilot Croker MIA September 16, 1943 pilot POW

TBF-1 Avenger Bureau Number 23909
Pilot Hahn MIA September 16, 1943

SBD-5 Dauntless Bureau Number 35976
Pilot Whitely MIA December 1, 1943 crew Missing In Action (MIA)

SBD-5 Dauntless Bureau Number 11002
Pilot Paris crashed December 1, 1943 crew rescued

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Last Updated
August 31, 2017

 

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