Ballale Island

Ballale Island

      Chris - Can anyone give me information on ballale island, It now has come to light that my grandfather was taken to ballale island after he was taken prisonor in Singapore. His name was Gunner Edward Geoge Boswell 1523727 RA 35 Rgt 144 Bty. For the last 40 years I thought he was lost at sea.

      Keith Andrews - Just a quick note in response to your message. Order through the library service a book titled "Kill the Prisoners" by Don Wall, ISBN 0-646-27834-7, Publisher Don Wall. Chapter 3 is the one you want, and I will try to respond to you with greater detail tonight. There is an article on the COFEPOW website, by Mrs June Woods about her father, Gunner Alfred William Burgess, which tells of her search for the truth. Of the party of 600 gunners who left Singapore, one died on route and was buried at sea, 80 plus were left at Rabul as they were too sick to continue, only 18 of those survived, and the rest went on to Ballae, where there were no survivors. Hope this helps, will respond in greater detail tonight.

      No sleep for me until I reply, I can see that!
      The name of the book I have given you describes the events on Ballale, as best anyone can tell. You should also go to and click on the Looking Back menu. What you are looking for is an article titled "Gunner Alfred William Burgess"
      by Mrs. June Woods (nee Burgess). This is June's story about her father who was with 144th Battery, 35th LAA. This article will give you a lot of the information you seek. Also take a look at FEPOW Community on the same site, search the topic boards as there is at least one on the subject that notes an Australian book for reference, which can also be ordered via the library. I also mentioned in my earlier message the Don Wall book, well worth the effort to obtain. So, the story begins with the fall of Singapore, and the departure of the Gunners 600 party, or the Ballale 600 on October 18th 1942. My father was fortunate enough to miss that trip, he too was in the Royal Artillery, serving on the Coast Guns, and was put to work on the Railway, but that is another story. The party was under the command of Lt.Col John Bassett, C.O. 35th LAA. The ship they boarded was the Masta Maru, one of the first Hellships. If you look at official records, the party is stated as heading for New Guinea, at least this is what is stated in David Nelson's book The Changi Story, and the Nominal Roll of the 9th Coast Regiment.
      The ship arrived at Rabaul, where 82 sick POWs stayed. Only 18 would ever see freedom again. One man from my father's regiment died while at sea, so this left 517 POWs deemed fit by the Japs to go to Ballale to build an airfield. Once there they were put to work, but the Americans had recovered from Pearl Harbour, and started to hit back with a vengeance. Air Aces Against Japan mentions raids on Ballale, and a number of POWs were killed in these raids as the Japs would not allow them to dig slit trenches. Those left alive were eventually murdered by the Japanese.

      This brief detail is taken from the Don Wall book, and a book by Alf Baker, one of the Rabaul survivors. Please get hold of the Don Wall book to fill in the details. It also has in the back the Nominal Roll of the Gunner 600 party, and the Rabaul survivors. Your grandfather's name is mentioned there. The lost at sea notation was a lie put about by the Japanese. The authorities did learn the truth, but the decision was taken not to release full details to next of kin as it would cause more undue anguish and distress. Again, mentioned in the Don Wall book.
      In case you wonder why I mention books all the time, is that this is where the information comes from, it is not my work, so I do not and will not take credit. All I am doing is showing you the places to look for further detail. Should you wish to contact COFEPOW, of which I am a member, you may meet others who lost loved ones at Ballale. If I can be of further help, please let me know.

      Capt. George W. Duffy - I have noted the name Ballile (which, if it is the same island, is now spelled Ballilea in the latest National Geographic atlas) in your correspondence on this site. Honestly, I have never heard of this place in all my reading of Japanese prisoner of war history.

      Is this island the one by the same name in the Solomons ? Did the Japanese indeed transport prisoners that far to the East ? I know they took prisoners into the Moluccas to construct airfields, but I have never heard nor read of people going as far as the Solomons.

      Of course, these poor fellows would have been long gone from Java before the Germans turned me and my shipmates over to the Japanese in November 1942, so I have no basis to connect with them.

      Keith Andrews - Thank you for your message, your atlas is far better than mine, so it's off to the shops to buy a new one. I very first heard of the place just after my father died in 1986, from a FEPOW, who asked if my father had been a member of the Ballale 600. I never followed it up until my searching for my dad's military history in late 2000.
      The island itself is in the Shortlands Group, south of Bougainville. I am not too sure if the plan was to originally take the POWs to New Guinea to build an airfield, and the plans changed after the Battle of the Coral Sea, followed by the Battle of Midway, which changed them for good. The rest you know from my message to Chris.
      One historical footnote however, on April 18th 1943, Admiral Yamamoto was on an inspection tour of Japanese Naval Bases, and was persuaded to visit a newly completed airfield on the island of Ballale. He never got there, his Betty bomber was ambushed by Guadalcanal based U.S.fighters over Bougainville, and he was killed in the plane crash. From what I hear, the wreckage is still there to this day.

      I have copied this note to Beryl Canwell, who knows far more than I on this subject, her uncle was Gunner A.W.Burgess, and she compiled the information for June Woods story.

      Capt. George W. Duffy -I erred last evening in my spelling of subject island name. This is how it appears in the National Geographic atlas.

      Keith Andrews - Please don't apologise, at least it's in your atlas!

      Chris - Thanks for your second email, I do appreciate the time and effort you have put in for me. I will try and track down the books you have mentioned to collate a complete picture, if that is ever now possible. once again thank you.

      Anthea - If you look at my web site, the Java Index, you will find 2 photographs of the landing strip on Ballale Island, taken by an Australian flyer in the 1970s who spent 22 years in the Solomons. He spells it "Ballalae".

      Bill Davis- Seems we are all trying to re-invent the wheel! I to am also seeking information on my grandfather, Gunner William Herbert Sutton, 5378004, 3 HAA. I have discovered like your grandfather he was a member of the gunners group that went on to Ballale Island, though I have only just this week discovered this.
      I would be grateful, if in the course of your research you find anything new or interesting could you share it with me. Of course I will do likewise.
      I have ordered some reports from the American Ex Pow Ass. That maybe of interest, if and when they arrive I would be happy to copy them for you.
      David Nelson's book 'The Story of Changi Singapore' has afew references to the group leaving Changi POW camp and is well worth a read. Its now been reprinted ISBN No:0 9503243 0 2

      Keith - Would you please contact me direct on my e-mail address: for no other reason than to give you a contact who can help you, as she has helped Chris, in actual fact, both people named Chris.
      I will not give e-mail addresses out over an open site.
      Gunner E.G.Boswell is listed in the book "Kill the Prisoners" as passing away on 5/3/43, age 29. If this is the true date I am not sure.
      However, the person I will put you in touch with can supply more detail than anyone I know, plus some new developments.

      Keith - >George, I tried to reply on the feedback list, but with no joy, so I hope you get this.
      I have read the original edition of this book, and have just purchased the update, which is being read from cover to cover. I had the pleasure of speaking to Alf Baker the other day on the telephone looking for a possible answer to an enquiry I had been working on. Alf's book mentions that same enquiry, as he was asked the same question towards the end of last year. The enquiry was in relation to 1605186 - Gnr. I .T. Powell.
      542937 Sgt. A.M.Blinko, 35th LAA Regiment, 144th Battery RA. Is also mentioned in Don Wall's book "Kill the Prisoners", which includes Ballalae in it write up of horrors perpetrated by the Japanese. You are not alone in your search, and if you look on FEPOW Community under the subject index, you will find Ballale Island. The three people I have exchanged messages with were looking for information on the following POWs;
      1605186 - Gunner Ivor Thomas Powell - 3rd HAA Regiment, 30th Battery
      5378004 - Gunner Herbert William Sutton - 3rd HAA Regiment, Battery to be confirmed.
      1523727 - Gunner Edward George Boswell - 35th LAA Regiment, 144th Battery.
      Each of these people I have put in touch with a lady called Beryl Canwell. Beryl helped her cousin Mrs June Woods in the research as to the fate of her late father;
      1831431 - Gunner Alfred William Burgess - 35th LAA Regiment, 144th Battery.
      Beryl can fill in more details than I, and I feel it is better that someone who had lost a relative there responds with another in the same situation.
      Earlier this year Beryl asked me for a contact in the RA which I supplied. One letter from her lead to another, the result being the RA are going to supply a plaque in commemoration to those lost at Ballalae, and this will be placed on the island. If you would like more details, please contact me direct at and I will supply them, or put you in touch with Beryl. A copy of this message will be forwarded to her.
      Ballalae, this is the spelling used by the locals, so I am informed by the son of one of the Rabaul survivors, so that's the spelling that seems the most appropriate.
      Kindest regards
      Keith Andrews
      Eldest son of 777379 B.S.M. R.V.Andrews.
      7th Coast, 11th Coast, and 9th Coast at Singapore, Penang, Singapore, who by the grace of god did not go with the Gunners 600 Party.

      Bryon Horton -

      Ballalae airfield September 1945 photographs

      Is there interset in copies of photographs of Ballalae airfield taken in September 1945.There is copyright over these photographs, so they cannot be placed on the web or duplicated.
      I have details of Ballalae Island from an Australian soldier who was there immediately after the war, coming over from Bouganville.



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