War Letters – NW Australia: 29 Aug 1943, Darwin; Back (home) again

W.E.Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
APO Darwin
Sunday 29th Aug [1943]

 

Darling,

Am making another attempt to have you receive a letter while I am home.

Too bad I missed out on the previous effort.  I guess the suggestion I made in the last will still be met.  Yes?

Goody! That makes me one you owe me.

How it is having me back?

Nice and noisy after the years of foodless solitude?

The waiting around for transport home near drove me dippy – now I’m here all is well.

& now How’s about it, sweet?

 

Note: Bill left for Sydney via air on 31 August 1943 (Ref: DVA File No. X336636)

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War Letters – NW Australia: 27 Aug 1943, Darwin; Back (home) from Humpty Doo

W.E.Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
APO Darwin
27th Aug [1943]

 

Darling,

Didn’t expect a letter, now did you?  Wasn’t it just too-too sweet of me to write you despite the knowledge that I’d be home before you got it?  It has an ULTERIOR MOTIVE behind it all – you have to very very nice to me right away.

I felt awful on Saturday after Friday night’s party.  At least that is what I anticipate at the moment.  I’m afraid it will be too confusing for me to write in the past tense as what is yet to happen has already done so.  I’ll get back to my state of mind on Friday Aug 27th

7.30 am

Had an interesting trip to the cattle Station “Humpty-doo” which though comparatively small for this, is silly writing you a letter about something I’ve already told you.  Consider  this purely as a happy good day note and a reminder to you of my sterling qualities.

Just consider how happy I am to be home. And how I like to see your sweet little mug again.

Well what are you waiting for, I’m here aren’t I?

Or would you rather have a cuppa?

A big kiss

from

Willie

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War Letters – NW Australia: 25 Aug 1943, Darwin; Heading off to Humpty Doo

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
APO Darwin
Wed 25th August 1943

 

Darling,

This I hope will be the last letter you get before you get me personal like.

Unless someone, or something causes a priority travel hitch I should be back home Monday evening.  So get yourself polished up today my girl – I’ll be seeing you tonight down by the Bay.

Didn’t have a party on our anniversary.  The lads here are saving up for a do on Friday night – farewell to some Flight – Loot who is going down on leave.  Looks as if I may be included in the festivities – we, I hope, (not because of his company but because of the plane) shall travel down together.  Had three glasses of beer on the great occasion.  They drank our health and I drank yours.

Am going out to a cattle station [Humpty Doo] for two days leaving after breakfast this morning.  So won’t be writing you again.

Lots and lots of love dear

Hope everything in the
garden is lovely – Freddie.

 

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War Letters – NW Australia: 24 Aug 1943, Darwin; 10th Wedding anniversay

From Friday, 20 August 1943 through to Monday, 23 August 1943, Wep was on assignment at a Mission Station on Bathurst Island. Whilst absent, Wep penned a letter to Jess, of which the first 13 pages have been lost or misplaced.

Continuation of letter written 23 August

Page 14

 

…. but plain damn silly.  I wish you hadn’t told me.  Anyway I’ll be home within a week of you getting this letter.  So expect a lot of things to look up.

Had a fair trip back.  Couldn’t see much as we were flying blind in bush fire smoke for a hundred miles.  Am glad to be back and have already made application for my return trip.  Hurry up that new dress and look your damndest.  Only the two of us together the night I come back.

Am getting tired as I have had to put off writing tonight until the typists gave up the ghost – which they unwillingly did about 10.30pm.  Didn’t sleep to well over on the island.  The nights turned out too cold for only two blanket over me and the sand fly itches gave me de woiks.  Used to wake at 2 or 3am, or even earlier I imagine, & toss for the remainder of the night.  No good.

And so to bed. – Goodnight my darling.  I hope you managed the anniversary pleasantly & tolerably happily.  I haven’t got to mine yet although I’m only about ¾ hour off the 24th August.  Lots of love sweet, save yours all up for my return.

 

24th August
Page 15

 

Good morning my bride.  Tis the wedding morn.  Ten years removed.  Got your telegram – Thanks a lot dear.  I hope you got mine on the right day.  I had to get the man mountain here to send it for me on Monday as I was still away.  They say that it would get there on the auspicious occasion.  I hope so.  Everyone has wished me happy anniversaries.  To give the real domestic flavour to the day I have lit up the copper and am about to do the washing.

Am trying to get air transport to Sydney, but there seems to be some bother, a lot of the air services have been cut down.  So, at the moment I’m still in the air (i.e metaphorically speaking) again.  Give me the works when you dress up for the happy day.

XXX  Bill

Little flowers for anniversary day.  They were a frangipani & a pretty red wild bloom.

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War Letters – NW Australia: 19 Aug 1943, Darwin; Death before dishonour!!

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
APO Darwin
Thursday Night
[19 Aug 1943]

Darling,

You won’t be getting another letter after this one for at least 4 days as I am leaving at dawn tomorrow.  Hope to get back here on Monday night.  I hope to heavens the sand flies grant me some mercy – otherwise I’ll be coming home an object of abhorrence with itchy excrescence liberally besprinkling my poor old bod.

It is 8pm at the moment & I sweat like a pig.  No better this morning – God damn it I’ll have to wait until Tuesday now before I know what gives out down there in Sydney.  The last letter I received from you was attached to the cutting re the much publicised Ron Bennett [Art Director at The Australian Women’s Weekly].  Pretty horrible to have all that stuff splashed about in a blasted rag like Truth {Sydney newspaper].  I should imagine Betty is slinking around in a hell of a state.  I notice she is not defending. Doesn’t seem much she can do about it.

Have done nothing today but tour the town during the morning and go for a swim in the afternoon.  The tide was surprisingly low and we had to walk about 300 yards from the high water mark across an absolutely flat and sloshy sea bottom to reach the water.  Another 100 yards or so till we were in water only up to Fred.  Did’nt fancy it much – kept thinking of sharks and the long run home.  Hermit crabs (tiny crabs which find an empty shell get inside it for protection and pull it around with them) lung fish (a small species of fish which can breathe out of water and come up on the sand for sunbaking) were in their hundreds squiggling and crawling all over the place.

Very little to report save the indignation and dismay of war correspondents who object to doing their own washing and ironing.  As OFFICERS & GENTLEMEN they claim a batman.  The Department of Public relations has recalled the original unit which was serving the crowd here and replaced it with a fresh bunch which is 2 men lighter & have issued an edict that the press men are not entitled to the rights of Army Officers who in this respect have all their work done for them by their individual batman.  There has been a great protest meeting – their dignity has been insulted.  What will the commoner think of to see them as Officers choring at the tub.  At the thought of it one goes purple in the face, another grows pallid, yet another shakes as with a palsy.  All by the grace of God are not speechless, indeed they as a body are extraordinarily vociferous both orally and in writing.  Typewriters are running hot, pleas & denunciations march forth in effort to regain the status quo.  I, like Pilate, wash my pants and say, “what is washing?”  It’s all very funny to me – I’m not staying.

3

At the moment of going to press the boys are not holding their own.  Urgent signals for reinforcements from newspaper proprietors have been sent.  The battle is begun.  I have designed the banners – newsprint drawers, pants and socks are hanging on the wireless aerial stretched across the mess.  Each bears an appropriate motto.  Death before dishonour!!

I hope nothing prevents my return on Monday as I want to be sure the telegram gets to you on Tuesday.  If it misses it won’t be my fault.

There is just a possibility you’ll get this letter on the wonderful 24th so if you do take it as a loving wish for lots more of them to come darling. We’ll celebrate both our tenth and your birthday on the 5th.  We’ll make it a real day my dear.  On the 24th do everything I’d like you to do and nothing I wouldn’t like and I’ll do the same.  The boys may have a bit of a party for us.  Have a good time yourself.  Once more – many returns.

And now bung-ho, wifie!

from husband.

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War Letters – NW Australia: 18 Aug 1943, Darwin; Still mooning about the house

W.E. Pidgeon
DPR Unit
APO Darwin
Wednesday
[18 Aug 1943]

Darling,

Am just sneaking the use of one of the lad’s typewriter while he’s out on a job.  Came to after a spot of spine-bashing to find the place empty.  Have done nothing at all today except sit around on my acre [arse] and be bored – time I had a bit of a rest of sorts.  The boys are on their way back so off with the machine and up with the pen.

Sitting around is soul destroying – I can’t settle down to working in this mess as there are absolutely blink-all in the way of facilities for such a comfort loving craftsman (?) such as myself.  The moment of 5.20pm finds me sunning in the same spot as I occupied yesterday and pursuing the delightful occupation of considering your dear charms & graces.  Sweet, what?

This is by far the most pleasant time of day – the sun seems stationary & shines with mellow warmth – the breeze, soft and sensuous, slides round every limb.  I wish it were a little fiercer – this colour I’m after is anything but permanent – damn me if it doesn’t appear to wash off under the shower.  Maybe it’s only red dust impregnated in the skin.  In any case it is a highly impermanent pigment.

At dawn this week am off on the plane trip I spoke of.  I’m supposed to be one of the crew – heh! heh!  You won’t get any mail from me until I return from the island.  I will be 2 or 4 days there – other than the planes there is no mail contact.  So don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for a while.

I’m getting a bit sick of the unsatisfying contact letters afford.  I don’t feel like writing to any length.  The novelty of things has gone – and I’m just anxious to get home – all very similar to the counting of days before vacation, only I’m in reverse.

Hours later.

I’m still mooning about the house – gawd help me there’s nothing to damned well read in blasted place.  I’ve been through all the magazines more times than the covers can stand up to.  I can’t be bothered with newspapers a week old.  The books (what there are of them) are dull – I’d ever write one if I wasn’t so languid – It’s a wonderfully lazy joint.  Haven’t seen anyone sitting down to a good solid think since I left the zero regions.  If & when I go away again something long & heavy in the way of literature will accompany me.

Cheerful, breezy, letter, yes?  Voted today – i.e. 3 days before election day.  An enormous amount of work is involved in army polling.  Every vote has to be sealed up in an envelope with the soldiers name, address & army no. on it – posted down, unsealed, counted, etc.  Probably take longer in this election to get final figures than is usually the case.  I hope you didn’t give Old Billy* your approval.

Later again – have been out for a walk round the town & called into the YMCA – quite a decent place 3 full sized billiard tables – piano – books & all the what have yous. Borrowed 2 books – may keep me quiet for a while.  Still restless – have suggested some supper.  Approval has been expressed. We shall sit down to a frugal snack of cold boiled eggs, tomatoes, sliced tongues and hock.

That operation was efficiently taken care of – we are all now in advanced stage of pre-spine bashing somnolence – the brains of many have already gone to sleep.  Mine included.  Will retire to my cot in which I sleep with only a sheet & the old man Fred.

Lots of love darling – hope to get a letter tomorrow – seems a bloody long time since one arrived.

And so to bed

Bill.

Enclosed find some local blooms of Bougainvilleas – press them to your heart.

[Then all crossed out.]

Would you please write out a cheque for 28/- payable to Hugh Dash & put this accompanying letter with it & mail it to Hugh Dash, c/o “Courier Mail”, Queen St, Brisbane.  I tried to send it direct from here but there are no postage notes available until Sunday on which date I will be away.

Skip it!

Love to my

Darling.

YMCA facilities, Darwin; 18 Aug 1943
YMCA facilities, Darwin; 18 Aug 1943
YMCA facilities, Darwin; 18 Aug 1943
YMCA facilities, Darwin; 18 Aug 1943
YMCA facilities, Darwin; 18 Aug 1943
YMCA facilities, Darwin; 18 Aug 1943
At the YMCA, Darwin, 18 Aug 1943
At the YMCA, Darwin, 18 Aug 1943

[* Note: The 1943 election was won by the Australian Labor party lead by John Curtin with 49 seats, a gain of 17 seats. They defeated the coalition United Australia Party/Country Party who won 19 seats, losing 18. Interestingly, the coalition was lead by Arthur Fadden who was the leader of the Country Party, the minor partner to the United Australia Party, lead by Billy Hughes (a former Labor Prime Minister) who had taken over in 1941 after Robert Menzies resigned. Following the Coalitions crushing defeat, Fadden handed the leader of the Opposition back to Menzies who had resumed leadership of the UAP.

References:  

Australian federal election, 1943 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2013.Australian federal election, 1943 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_federal_election,_1943. [Accessed 18 August 2013]. 

Billy Hughes – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2013. Billy Hughes – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Hughes. [Accessed 18 August 2013]

Arthur Fadden – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2013. Arthur Fadden – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Fadden. [Accessed 18 August 2013].]   

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War Letters – NW Australia: 17 Aug 1943, Darwin; Back at the Correspondents’ Mess

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
APO Darwin
Tuesday 17th

[17 Aug 1943]

Sweetheart,

Am back in the correspondents’ mess again.  Arrived in this morning after a car trip of some 4 hours.  The weather here is certainly to be preferred to that at the bomber strip which I reckon must be the hottest blarsted spot in the whole N.T.  Think I might have got a touch of the sun yesterday after setting out in the middle of a glaring road with no shirt on.  Felt quite sick after ½ hour or so although I didn’t get burnt much.  Possibly the glare of white paper with the sun shining on it may have been responsible.  Anyway, I up & left.  One of the yank officers reckoned I must have been a bit troppo to pick the spot in the first place what with the heat & thundering great trucks raising all smothering dust within 20 yards of me, etc.

At a water hole on a dusty Northern Territory road
At a water hole on a dusty Northern Territory road

Smoko
Smoko – Transport men are seen at a halting place near a waterhole on one of the winding, dusty roads of the Northern Territory.” – the Australian Women’s Weekly, 26 Feb 1944, p9
At a water hole on a dusty Northern Territory road
At a water hole on a dusty Northern Territory road

Working out of doors in the middle of the day knocks you up alright.  I feel positively exhilarated at the prospect of the cool Sydney spring.  We’ll go out places together – eh?  I’m practically certain to be down before your birthday.  If I get transport accommodation OK.  So when you get a telegram from me you’ll know to meet me at Rose Bay. [via seaplane]  I’ll be looking for you – save up some juice.  I won’t be able to tell you much in the telegram I shall send when I leave – It will be up to you to find out time of my arrival.  Put some beer in the frige for us.  Which reminds me to tell you I am happily having my weekly bottle at the very moment.  It’s extremely good & most welcome as I have just finished doing the weeks washing & ironing 3 shirts 3 pants, handkerchiefs, underpants socks & towel.  It’s hot work in these h’yar parts.  The weather is getting warmer as the wet season approaches.  Blarsted flies are banging about too – damn their wings.  Don’t worry about me drinking a lot.  There isn’t that much here!  Even a few knocks everyone and I haven’t had more than 4 real hangovers in 6 weeks.  I don’t suppose I have lost much weight really. Although one sweats to a prodigious extent water is consumed in replaceable quantities.

Have now taken up my pew in the sunshine as I must bring you back some visible indication of the tropics.  One’s colour is said to disappear very quickly so I shall devote my last days here solely to the acquisition of a body tone you will really want to touch.  Cunning little man!

Have also switched radio on and am listening to short wave transmission from the eastern states – whether Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane I, as yet, don’t know.  Ah me – how I am suffering.

Have just heard it was from Sydney.

Am becoming quite benign in all my attitudes – the bottle is practically empty.  My good intentions of a long letter weaken – my sole desire at the moment is to sit by radio and dream happily & nebulously about you.  With the pilots I say “I’ve had this place” – but also I say – “I want to have you”

A week today to the 24th. Oh dear! I wish I could buy you something!  Some little permanent thing we could keep for remembrance of our tenth.  After all it’s quite a while.  If you should see anything buy it for me to you.  Up the clothes, I’ll buy them for you anyway.  But I guess there is nothing left about anywhere.  Maybe King in his second hand snoopings will see something.  However don’t worry pet, about it – one day I’ll find something.  Your best present to me will be to look your prettiest & to be ever so pleased about my being back.  I think of you such a hell of a lot now.  Seems as if I’m back at the going out to Brighton stage in my love life.  High time I changed the record – playing this old lonely note doesn’t help either of us much.

You appear to be living an extremely quiet life.  For goodness sake honey don’t drive yourself nuts.  I hope you are eating something substantial occasionally for there has to be something left for me to grab hold of.

I’ve just come back from the pictures – a waste of time sadly regretted – the Ritz Bros in “3 Roaring Romeos” – My God! What a show! [The Three Musketeers (1939)?]

Have plenty cigs for you.  Looks almost as if I have been receiving stolen goods.

I should be able to write you for hours tonight as I am (believe it or not) the only inmate at present incarcerated in the asylum.  All the others are out on their job.  There’s been quite a bit of plane activity about here lately and they are covering all the news angles from the pilots, bombardiers & so on and so forth.  3 of the fighter pilots I was staying with bagged a bird each.  Nice going.  You’ll read about it all in the papers before this letter reaches you. [* See Note]  Wish I had our coleman stove – I’d set down right now to hot toast & asparagus.  As things are I would have to build a wood fire.  That’s too much.

Still haven’t any butter.  Altogether I’ve had it only a week & a half since arriving.  Oh boy, will I make a hog of myself down south.

Have just turned on short wave radio to some oriental station broadcasting some indescribably mournful dirge which suits my present mood like a tight collar.  It’s really wonderfully glum.  One of these days I must get me a short wave set – an amazing variety of stuff comes over – surely sufficient to suit every mood.

I’m still trying to make up my mind as to whether I should or should not, wolf the asparagus.  The betting at the moment is two to one on that I do.  May as well get something inside me – you can’t tell but that the yellow men may not be over later tonight.  The moon is still perfect – they have had time to rest their bomber crews after the last raid – and they a getting a bashing from the yanks here – which sort of thing tends to make them a little angry.  Perhaps I should remain awake a while – with no one in the house I may stay asleep at the wrong moment.

Only 14 or 15 days before I clear off.  I’m beginning to count them.  I suppose you will too, now that I have told you what I hope to do.

Asparagus is out in front turning into the straight – it’s no race folk – Asparagus wins pulling up, 3 bellyfuls in front of Some Bread and NO Butter.

So lots of love and kisses
from yours
as ever
Freddie
XXX

[*Note: 1943 ‘AUSTRALIAN PLANES IN N.-WEST THRASH JAPS.’, The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 19 August, p. 3, viewed 16 August, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42034094]

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War Letters – Borneo: 17 Aug 1945, Morotai; Overnight stop in Zamboanga, The Phillipines

W. E. Pidgeon
c/o Public Relations
1st Aust Corps
17th August [1945]
Friday
Morotai

Darling,

There are us – no signs of my departure.  I’m just sitting in the sun in a state of vaporisation (?).  Yesterday I rewrote because of the Peace, the introduction to a story from the “Women’s Weekly” and did another black and white sketch to go with it.  They should be at the office on Monday morning but I don’t (know) whether that is time enough to get it in the edition in which it will not be too cold.

Apparently Sydney made fair sort of whoopee during the past week.  I hope you kept an even balance and  haven’t dropped young Graham on his head or anything.  God knows if I’ll be home before our Anniversary.  I hope so.  But the transport position is really frightening.

On the way from Labuan to Morotai we stayed overnight at Zamboanga, third largest town in the Phillipines.  It is situated on the extreme southern tip of the most southern of the islands.  A good deal of it was knocked about but it was still the most interesting place we have struck.  Cliff Eager, Capt. Flett (an official war artist from Melbourne) and I walked into the town from the airstrip and gave it a good smelling over.  What a stinking, dirty, filthy lot most of the Phillipinos are!  The women dress in ill fitting and bedraggled European clothes and they are fat and slothenly.  Not a patch on the Malays or the Chinese for carriage and looks.  They seem to be a pretty degenerate lot – in Zamboanga at least.  The waterfront looks much as it does in photos of other eastern ports.  Hundreds of watercraft with  little roofs built over the vessel and with outriggers on both sides like

Image19

A concrete promenade with steps into the water is absolutely littered with refuse the stench of which is abominable.  Fruit skins, dead fish, sweat, every ruddy thing.  The native village on stilts in mid stream would make you sick!

The cost of living is terrific!  Only 2 Pesos to the American dollar – which makes one Peso worth 3/1 Australian.  The three of us had a cup of tea and one ordinary chicken sandwich in the cleanest looking shop in town.  This set us back only 5 Pesos 40 cents = 16/-!

Anyway, we dawdled around a bit more & decided to have tea at the same place.  We had a really good chinese feed for the modest figure of 11 Pesos 50 cents.  Thank heavens we didn’t stay there long.  Arrived in Morotai on Tuesday 12 noon.  I don’t feel much like writing.  I’d rather be getting back to see you & tell you all about everything and to see how the little man is doing.  I wonder if he’ll remember me.  I suppose not.  Lots of love darling – please look after yourself.

Bill

P.S. I got your second letter at Labuan just before I left.  Have had none since.

W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) watches a performance of Jiu-Jitsu with Japan
JAPANESE PRISONERS OF WAR at an Australian compound on Morotai watch an exhibition of judo (a form of jiu-jitsu). With them (top right) is Daily Telegraph artist “WEP”. – Australian official photo, published, The Daily Telegraph, 1 Sep 1945.

[This would appear to have been Bill’s last letter home to Jess. His exact return date is as yet unknown but it is anticipated he did make it home in time for his and Jess’s 12th wedding anniversary on August 24th, 1945.]

W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) with son Graham at home in Northwood about Ja
W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) with son Graham at home in Northwood, Sydney
WEP_JESS_018 Jess, Graham and Bill circa 1945
Jess, Graham and Bill Pidgeon (Wep) at home in Northwood

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War Letters – Borneo: 16 Aug 1945, Morotai; Draft copy for Women’s Weekly story

The follwing copy, written whilst in Morotai was the basis for a story published in The Australian Women’s Weekly: 1945 ‘Soldiers in North talk and dream of home.’, The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 8 September, p.17, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47246573

Wep's War Correspondent badges and sketch book

Morotai, Thursday 16th August [1945]

It was pretty certain on Friday the 10th of August that the war was over. But the wild exuberant lead that flew around to celebrate the peace was just as vicious as that of war. Ironically, peace too, brought its casualties. The spontaneous rattle of machine guns and rifles was answered by the bopping of the Bofors and the slicing of the searchlight batons beating time across the sky. But the tension was gone and there was singing and drinking and yelpings of joy. And there was sentimentality galore. Three days it lasted. By Monday the boys had steamed right off and official peace was accorded no more than just a passing nod. In the night a few tracer shells moved in slow red perforations across the night and no one cared. It was more important and more depressing to contemplate the months yet to be served before demobilisation became for each a real returning to the ways of peace. Things were normal then on Monday. The hangovers were lifting and the cooks just cooked while batmen batted. In the evening at the pictures I attended, the troops stoically accepted the acrobatic antics of warrior Errol Flynn. The ceremonial tracers and searchlights moved on. The Australian Comforts Fund came good with a hamper for each and the thousands of plum-puddings are waiting on the spoon. Jube-jubes, peanuts, and peaches for the boys. A free bottle of beer has been promised.

But after all the shouting the life and background for most of the army personnel is still the same. The jungle is still green and thick and the Celebes Sea is just as ever.

Over there in Northwest Borneo the country is still smothered with gross fat trees in all shapes and sizes. You backyard fernery folk would still goggle at the orchids, creepers, staghorns, and palms – herringbone ferns and bracken like you have at home, but taller than a man!

Thanks to the zestful bombing of the RAAF and to the shelling by the navy, all the shopping centres of all the towns and villages have gone with the wind. One can only surmise what must have been the beauty of pre-bombardment Victoria Town on Labuan Island. The fragments of pale blue plastered walls, the heaps of bright red bricks and tiles, the remains of Chinese architectural devices, the broken retaining walls of the canal behind the shops, the gaunt and shattered trees, the only two surviving brick buildings, the isolated clock tower, an aloof and well-proportioned symbol of the town remain to testify to its one-time charm. What is left is just a ghost. The bricks and bones that were once its substance have been bulldozed off and used as filling on the airstrip. Victoria Town is buried there.

It is a tedious four and a half hours journey by landing craft to Brunei, your doldrums unrelieved by the sight of anything of interest and intensified by the down pouring blast of the Borneo sun. Heaven help Venice if Brunei is, as some allege, “The Venice of the East”. Only a real estate agent could have thought that one up for such a squalid grey collection of native houses. They squat weakly on their legs over the evil-smelling mudflats of the stream. Certainly there is a touch of carnival in the comings and goings of the children in their praus, and in their singing, – high pitched notes that float smoothly on the river and the ooze. Tatter clothed natives pick and scratch in the rubble of the town.

Surprisingly the road to Tutong bursts into twin concrete strips like tracks into a suburban villa garage. The interminable bowing and saluting of the natives is a hangover from the rigourous Japanese domination. Every thatched hut has more than its quota of sparkling little nippers, mostly nude, who wave and salute like their elders. From the more knowing you get thumbs-up and victory signs.

The road loses itself on the beach and the beach becomes the road. The China Sea swishes on the beach and the breeze is cool. A continuous line of casuarinas encroaches on the sand and reminds the boys of home.

Far ahead the smoke of the burning oil wells of Seria throws up the dull blue shape of an apparent mountain range. Closer, the sky darkens and the wind is quiet in the ominous gloom cast by the rolling smoke that dims the sun to the ignominy of a mothball hanging in the murk. Great jets of flame roar like Gargantuan blowlamps, the earth rumbles, and the trees are smothered in soot and oil. It is a black and white photo with fires in the middle. Australian army engineers are putting them out.

Personnel of the 20th Bgde. live a smooth existence at Kuala Belait. Here they share such terrors of war as laid-on gas and water, cricket and swimming on the beach, and offices, reading rooms, and a ping-pong in the homes and clubs of the pre-war oil executives. “A great war”, they used to say, but they’re pleased to see it over. The entrance to the erstwhile market is nice and handily flanked on one side by the local jail and on the other by a notice board bearing dire Army proclamations in English, Chinese and Malay. A few blackened beams and the fire-blued skeletons of a thousand bikes form this cemetery of a street. Malays and Chinese still shuffle up and down the road, or sit passively in the shade to watch the kids play and screech just as they do in Redfern or Fitzroy. In front of three tired shops – the only ones left – tiny silver fish are drying on sheets of corrugated iron in the sun.

From a house comes the brittle tinkling of an untuned piano; someone is playing with one or two fingers a Chinese song which strangely lapses into a few bars of “Way Down upon the Swanee River”. If you get to know little Peggy Ho and you ask her nicely, she will sing in her sweet little voice “I’ll always call you Sweetheart”. She is only 12 and very tiny and in some way her performance is very touching and it makes you think of all the children and of home. Peggy learnt that song and a few others while the Japs were here and when to speak English at all was indeed dangerous. Before they came she knew only her ABC and her family and friends have secretly taught her so much. What could the Japanese do with people like that?

You go to Limbang by barge through twisting aisles of water palms and mangroves. The silence is broken only by the roar of the engines and the monotony of the scene is varied by the appearance of an occasional prau which slides past and is left dancing on the wash behind. The paddlers in their conical straw hats disappear around the bend.

Limbang is the country of the Dyak. He is a real native of Borneo! You are conscious of a shock – your preconceived ideas of him were sadly naïve. Are these exquisitely feminine looking beings the bogeymen of your childhood days? It is unbelievable. Beautifully proportioned, sleek as a pear, you must admire their bodies. Here are Grecian marbles modelled in miniature and clothed in flesh of the lightest coffee hue and tattooed with the green scrolls and mystic patterns on the throat & shoulders. Their long hair is tied up with a strip of coloured cloth and the sun shines bluish on the fringe across the forehead and on the loopings of the spiral pointed bun. Throat bands, armlets, silver bangles just above the calf, and a loin cloth cunningly tied complete the peaceful ornamentation. But their swords and spears are razor sharp, their blowpipes silent and deadly. Many a Jap straggler’s head has been lopped and smoked for their mantelpieces at home. A useful ally to have even if he is not, patrolmen will say, so blooming hot in an open fight.

From Labuan another four and a half hours of sitting on a barge like a redhot waffle iron will bring you to the area occupied by the 24th Bgde. This is the land of the celebrated jeep train. Steam engines used to haul the train from Weston to Jesselton but on their hurried way out the Nips did their best to incapacitate the locomotives and the RAAF filled the boilers full of holes. So the engineers put iron tyres on the jeeps and shoved them on the rails and hooked the trucks behind.

The light narrow gauge line leads the train through disused paddy fields, through long and delightful tunnels of tropical green. The rubber trees meet in an arch overhead and the undergrowth, unhindered for the last three and a half years, forms walls of fern and palm and lasiandra whose purple flowers brush your body as you pass. For long stretches the track is carpeted with grass and only the polished rails indicate the way ahead. An intimate green pathway over which trucks clunkety-clunk and we lack only the great asthmatic puffing of the real thing. Natives stand aside for us to pass at intermittent clusters of houses, or at a real station, we disgorge bodies and rations to the babble of the Chinese and Malays.

At Beaufort the army put on a carnival day for the children of the district. The natives swarmed in by train, in boxcars and flat-tops. They squatted and huddled together tight as a bunch of grapes and quietly soaked in the drenching rain. In the boxcars native orchestras “gave out” and were “in the groove” in several different tunes. The penetrating boom of the gongs and the light melodic harmony of the gamelins (a xylophonic saucepan affair) burrowed through the dusk and rain. It was a great day for Beaufort. The children laughed at the soldiers and the soldiers laughed at the natives. Pillow fights and obstacle races, lolly-water and fireworks, Malay dances and Chinese singing, jeep rides, speeches and fraternisation, Miss Beaufort competition and ceremonial tea drinking – it was all there. British administrators considered with gloomy foreboding the Australian “spoiling of the native”. At 11.30 p.m. they straggled home – grandpas, grandmas, dads, and mums with sleeping kids swung in “cuddle seats” made of gaily coloured scarves.

There is nothing more to say. In all the talk of Borneo it is only home, and how quick the five-year men can get there that matters. This is THE topic, whether with the boys on patrol, or with the wallahs at the base. Points scores and probabilities of departure times are studied and discussed like form guides, And it shouldn’t be long before many homes have their men back for good.

(Alternate paragraph on different paper)

Of all the talk in Borneo it was, and still is, only home and how quickly the men can get there that matters. This is THE topic, with both the boys up front and the wallahs at the base.

Naturally five-year men will be first and points scores and probabilities of departure times are studied and discussed like form guides. News of the POWs of the Eight Div. Is expected hourly and the long awaited reunion with them is imminent.

Yes. Very soon many homes will have their men return for good.

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War Letters – Borneo: 15 Aug 1945, Morotai; Peace is officially declared

W. E. Pidgeon
c/o Public Relations
1st Aust Corps
15th Wed.
[15 Aug 1945]

Darling,

I am Morotai at the moment and am apparently to be marooned on the blasted island for days & days.  Since I had the misfortune to arrive only the day before peace was officially declared I find I am eased off the planes for the home scrambling base wallahs.  If I am to remain on priority 4, I will in all probability never get home – damn it!

Peace was official declared today and there has been no reaction whatever from the troops.  I guess they have worn themselves out after the continued celebrations since Friday night when there was a lot of wild exuberant shooting which results in several casualties and in the death of a yank army bloke.  Ironic that he should cop a peace bullet.

Lots of love,  will write at length later.

Angrily yours,

Bill

AWW 1945-06-16 P9 Armistice Day Town Hall Sydney IMG_6202-1
Armistice Day, Town Hall, Sydney by Wep published The Australian Women’s Weekly, 16 June 1945, p9 in celebration of the earlier victory in Europe before Wep’s trip to Morotai and Borneo.

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