As you can see by the letter head I am back on the mainland, killing time while I wait for transport up to Cairns. In all probability I shall be home in a week’s time. Have a nice steak in the house – and a cold bottle of course.
Will you please send me a page, or about 20 clothing coupons. Do not send the book as the Officer’s shop will accept loose coupons. I want to buy a pair of shoes they are very good and only 25/-. Post them as soon as you get this letter for I shall only be about 3 or 4 days up north. Shall then try and get home on the flying boat which gets to Sydney about 5 o’clock which, I hope, will just give us time to dash off a quick one at Coy’s. [Harold and Bassie Coy ran the Hotel Hunters Hill, a favoured drinking spot of Wep and Jess.]
How are all the parlour geese there? Can Molly [Turton] get through the swing doors now? Got any home brew?
Had a fine trip down from the island. Left at four on a slightly cloudy but moonlight morning and arrived here at 7.30 am. That’s good going. The dawn was really magnificent coming on while we were flying above the great cumulus clouds. The effect was brilliantly violent. It was a Superman sunrise.
Have struck Bill Marien, who, by the way, is married to that girl and has a kid about 18 month’s old. We had dinner at the Officer’s Club and a quantity to drink. It affected me poorly and I am now happily feeling the retirement of the ragged hangover that accompanied my awakening. The rest of my time has been spent dismally sitting on my bum and gloomily reading old Lifes, Reader’s Digests, Mans and other sundry publications.
Have just heard that I will be moving off tomorrow.
If you happen to be going to town will you pop into Moore’s Bookshop next the Criterion Hotel and ask if they have a copy of the cheap edition of Laurence’s (sic) Seven Pillars of Wisdom [T.E. Lawrence]. Also can you get me, at any bookstore a copy of Cleanliness and Godliness by Reginald Reynolds?
Have only had one letter from you so that if you have happened to send others I must presume their demise in the Jungle Hells of NG.
Nothing else of interest at the moment. So accept my utmost adoration. Your devoted willie.
[At some stage Bill visited the Atherton Tablelands where he then got a lift from Major C.H. Cheong, editor of the Army newspaper ‘Table Tops’ who drove him to Townsville presumably on his return trip home. It is estimated that he made it home by Thursday, 17 February 1944.]
Am back in Moresby and will soon (in a couple of days) be on my way back to the mainland where I am afraid I shall have to put in a week or so on the Tablelands. In any case it is certain that I shall be home within three weeks – maybe two.
Tommy [O’Dea] called into this unit on Sunday afternoon after five minutes after I had arrived back from the local air strip. Had only a few words with him but may go round to his living quarters tonight. Previously I couldn’t locate him as he is stationed away from the Navy proper. He drove off in a jeep. Christ, he looked funny! Quite a bleaming blade. Just as well he didn’t have a nurse or Amwas or something with him because on such occasions travel is accompanied by screams, cat calls and yahoos by all and sundry.
He looks well enough & quite happy. Said he flew up from Brisbane with only the slightest of brain flappings.
Bill Marien ex-Telegraph man (you will remember him up at the Castlereagh – big dark fattish chap with a girl wif lovely teef from Rockdale way) has gone back to mainland. I shall have a few drinks with him at the Officers Club where I last wrote you from.
Don’t write me any more letters here – or anywhere for that matter as I probably won’t get them. I received one from you while staying in the Ramu Valley. Sorry to hear you are so lonely – it won’t be so long now darling,
Hawkeye Hawkesley is the big noise around here. The life & soul of the party so to speak. Must get Tommy to take me down to the American Officer’s club as I would like to get myself some few things. Everybody at St Percy’s (as this school for boys is fondly known) has managed to get something or other.
Sunday saw a great organised picnic in the hills at a joint called Rouna Falls. Really very pleasant & falls quite impressive. The celibates managed to collect 5 nurses to take along. No Helens of Troy amongst them. 5 nurses to 12 men is a super abundance of feminity in these perfumeless parts.
Haven’t contracted as far as I know any scrofs, plagues or poxes. Have lost my pot belly and most of the other superfluous fats. Found it necessary to drag the belt in 4 holes. Sweated quite a bit in my time up here.
Had a few snaps taken of myself. They are not of much consequence.
Nothing doing here, so there will be no more news from me until after I get away.
Hope you are feeling well & are not getting too bats for public circulation. Be good until you see me again. Shall probably arrive at Martin Place about 4.30 pm one bright day. Bring the Ponty in & we’ll give Coys a slight break. [Harold and Bassie Coy ran the Hotel Hunters Hill, a favoured drinking spot of Wep and Jess.] Haven’t missed the grog up here. If it’s not about you don’t need it. Lots of love dear.
Am writing from an Advanced Dressing Station i.e. a base where surgeons work closest to the front line. Fortunately for the troops there is only one wounded casualty here at the moment, and from all information on the state of the war up here there are not likely to be any more. The Jap is definitely on the way out.
I’m somewhat limp after an afternoon stroll (?) up a mountain 200 ft higher than the spot where I now sit. All in all that damned ridge is about 4000 ft above sea level. God knows how the soldiers carried their packs (and the boongs the supplies for them) up these exhausting peaks. They must have been superhuman – it was all I could do to cart myself up.
The scenery round here is really magnificent. There’s nothing like it in Australia. Clouds encircling the mountains half way and passing fogs crown the peaks up to 4000 ft. The hills are treeless except for dark writhing tangles which follow the eroded creek beds slashing down the sides. Imagine the hills of Picton much more precipitous, higher & sharp edged on top – so sharp are some that only one man could cross the saddle at one time – as green or greener than those I painted.
After struggling to the top of this bloody mountain I came across some of the lads coming down. We sat & had a cigarette – they said they were Pioneers. I asked about Lloyd Martin and blow me down if he didn’t come round the track. I introduced myself. He was camped right on the top and all around were the most magnificent views. We had a cuppa which seemed to help me along. Then down the hill in practically a straight line & at a 45º angle. God! Did my legs wobble at the bottom. Unbelievable that I should really come across anyone in such a casual fashion in such a hell of an area as N. Guinea. However, it happened. He said that he had had a letter but two days before from his sister saying that I was on my way. The family resemblance is unmistakeable.
Tomorrow I am on my way up an even higher mount to a Ridge that has been well in the news. Heaven help me, even though I shall have a boong to carry my paint box.
That’s a picture to delight your heart. “Squire Pidgeon and Boong ascend the Hairy Mount.” The password for tomorrow is “Excelsior”. I’m definitely & most positively NOT looking forward to it. But the show must go on – albeit over my wracked & blistered body.
By the way, I am not the least less on the nose! The ground is wet with my honest sweat.
I think this hurricane lamp I’m using is about to give up the ghost any tick of the clock!
Will soon retire to my stretcher. I’m sleeping under native built grass roof in the malarial ward. I am not a patient. It is merely that I have been offered the hospitality of the base. The food here is the best that I have had in N.G. The cook was a chef at Scott’s of Melbourne so I guess he knows how to put even tinned meat & vegetables together. And have I had beans? Am not really eating well – don’t seem to be able to muster up any enthusiasm for the same damned stuff. Had alleged fresh meat the other day. Tasted (which word is an euphemism for it) like well worn saddle leather. I just couldn’t make the grade.
Have been taking my prophylactic daily dose of anti-malaria pills. In time they dye the old bod a fine shade of tangerine with the exception of the finger nails which appear to become whiter. Generally, a very smart effect, especially on persons of sallow complexion which acquires a rare old mahogany hue. I am approaching a very delicate pale primrose on the hands. Perhaps I’ll give you some real colour on my return. The boys say it has the same effects on the old doings as quinine. But what do I care – I aint goin’ no place.
I do hope you are really looking after yourself – eating, drinking moderately & keeping the old clods up on a chair or something, or anything that does for something.
Hope the family are still pottering along alright.
Regards to the Hunter Hillbillys [friends from Hunters Hill – King Watson and other drinking partners]. Even a schooner of Tooheys would cause a riot up here. N.G. is absolutely dry. I haven’t had a drink since Townsville. The boys at Moresby took a dim view of my alcoholless arrival.
Lots of love darling, Bill
P.S. The tea guzzling up here is staggering – every few minutes someone is making tea – if you’re not in the camp drinking the fairly lousy stuff you’re drinking it at a Salvation Army or YMCA inn along the road somewhere.
More love XXX
Wed. Feb 2 6.30 pm.
Jaysus! Do I feel sick! Have just done a very rough and very wobbly sketch of a fellow having his knee opened up by two field surgeons. Do they cut ‘em up! I’ve seen all the operations I want to for many a day. It was touch and go whether I would make a ninny of myself by throwing up on the spot! The day was saved by my extra rapid scrawl and an attempted wise look indicating the completion of my sketch. Phew! I bet I dream about it.
All that on top of tea which made me belch like hell & a slight sickness of exhaustion. I’ve been up and own the blasted mountains today my love. Started at 8.30 am & didn’t return to the camp till nearly 5 pm. Felt completely buggered and far from home. My knees are like jelly – my heels are sore from the thumping I gave them on the way down the mount. Banged all the nails through into my anything but calloused heels (incidentally it’s dammed cold at the moment – and raining too –a perfect setting for a first class whinge).
Well I have at least seen Shaggy Ridge and what a hell of a place it is. Heaven only knows how the boys took it over from the Jap. On either side of a track only wide enough for one. The earth face walls near sheer nearly 200 or 300 ft & the top of it was riddled with fox holes. It is all beyond me I’ll have to get hold of one of the crowd that did it to tell me all about it.
Don’t think I’ll write anything more tonight darling. Am feeling too depressingly tired. Keep a couple of gals for picking me up at Martin Place. I aim to be home this month via Flying Boat.
It looks as if I have been talking in a delirium. It is understandable that I thought I was home – God knows I ought to have been. Any bloody way I’m still waiting for a sanguinary plane and none is in sight. Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?
All my little fums are to be so much air and fantasy, my little desires to be monuments of futility, and any welcomes to be jeering nothings.
I’ve given up predicting my arrival – it rests in the lap of the Lodestars.
What’s the point of my writing about nothing but sitting down near the strip waiting for a kite?
I hope I’ll be seeing my family one of these days. Teach little Graham to speak nicely and to think well of his old pa overseas. Be faithful dear, we shall soon start life anew.
Your old old husband, Remember?
That was Bill’s last letter. It is estimated he made it home by Sunday, 4 February 1945