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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". When the first European explorers arrived in the 1880s the island's name of the island was incorrectly recorded with the spelling "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" by the Allies. The Japanese spelled the island's name pronounced the island's name phonetically as "Ba-la-lai".

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 successful 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 established a plantation with coconut palms harvesting copra that eventually encompassed a total of 307 acres. Atkinson and his wife Edith lived in a European style home and worked on the island. The labor force was comprised of islanders from the Shortland Islands and laborers from as far away as Choiseul Island that worked to collect coconuts, harvest and dry the copra and maintain the plantation. The plantation included the Atkinson family home, copra drying sheds and living quarters for laborers and a wharf for loading dried copra onto boats to export the finished product.

When Sam Atkinson died in 1931, Edith continued to manage the plantation to was less profitable due to the Great Depression and drop in the price of copra as a commodity. Even when the threat of the Pacific War approached, she opted to remain on on Ballale Island. In early 1942, the British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP) government ordered all Europeans evacuated from the Solomon Islands. Edith released the laborers to return to their homes and departed by boat then aboard a ship to Australia. Although she hoped to return quickly, she remained in Australia until the end of World War II.

In early 1942, the Europeans living in the Shortland Islands were evacuated just before the Japanese occupied Faisi Island and the rest of the Shortland Islands.

Wartime History
On November 3, 1942 the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), 18th Construction Battalion landed on Ballale Island to begin building an airfield with a contingent of 370 personnel later augmented by 517 British POWs and local people as 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

American missions against Ballale
January 15, 1943–October 19, 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. These remains were interred 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
September 26, 2020

 

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