War Letters – Borneo: 28 Jul – 2 Aug 1945, Limbang & Labuan; Visit to a Dyak village

W. E. Pidgeon
C/o Public Relations
1 Aust Corps
July 28 Sat. [1945]


Dear Jess,

Will probably be moving off tomorrow for the Jesseltown area which I should manage to cover in a week.  I have 7 or 8 possible subjects up my sleeve now, so what with that trip & a week or ten days at Balik Papan (Bally P ‘parn’ to you, mug).  I should have enough stuff to satisfy “The Weekly”.  I see no good purpose served by just hanging around sight seeing.  What really takes up the time here is transport which is slow & varied.  I intend to visit a Dyak (the indigenous native) village on the way back to Labuan.  I should be home in 4 or 5 weeks.  Am having a loaf this afternoon and shall perhaps take in a swim later.  Spent an extremely hot morning trying to paint a blown up workshop which now houses the field bakery.  Had the usual horde of sightseers clustered around me.  They did not worry me as much as the difficulties encountered in the attempt to paint under the tropical sun.  Sweated like a pig all the morning and am now in a semi coma.  This climate is enervating enough – turns me into a sort of lean Tommy Moon.


I’d do a shot of spine bashing only that I would be awake half the night!

Tuesday 6 pm.
[31 Jul 1945]

Have just finished a tea of sorts (we have it at 5.30, which is really about 4 o’clock) and am sitting in solitary state in my own tent watching a sudden tropical downpour, complete with thunders & lightenings.  I sit and contemplate the muddy foreground.  The uncountable puddles making it nearly as wet as the Limbang River which flows past just a hundred yards away.  I am not back at Labuan yet although I intent to return there tomorrow.  On the advice of those who know I sidetracked myself to the village of Limbang – a 1 1/2 hours barge run from Brunei.  It was worth the visit alright.  Here one sees the natives of Borneo, the head hunting Dyak, in their real state.

AWW 1945 Oct-20
The Australian Women’s Weekly, 20 Oct 1945

[Study, Dyak warrior, Limbang area, Sarawak I]
[Study, Dyak warrior, Limbang area, Sarawak I]
By God, they’re magnificent people.  It is hard to associate their grace & beauty with their bloodthirstiness.  The extraordinarily feminine features of the young men must be seen to be believed.  They are small but wonderfully proportioned – with their long hair, reaching down to the bottom of their shoulder blades, or done up in a pointed bun at the back.  They wear too a jet black fringe across the forehead and beaded throat bands.  Great big earrings, or rather decorative plugs in their ears.  Silver bangles run riot on their forearms, & above the calf of the leg (a wonderful leg too, me girl!).  Blue green tatooing’s on the throat & shoulders – and a colorful loin cloth sits comfortably alongside the sharpest of swords.  Two of the kids, one about 14, the other about 17 were bloody beautiful.  I shan’t try to draw them for you as I couldn’t do them justice.  I took some photos of them late in the evening – I hope they come out alright.  Chinese & Malays wander up and down the only street all day long.  Some good lookers too, by gum.  The army crimes anyone found indulging in hanky panky with the native population.  The women marry early & have a child every year.  For every couple there must be an average 4 or 5 kids, and this by the time the woman is 22.

Wed. 5 pm

[1 Aug 1945]
Taking a barge to Limbang
Taking a barge to Limbang
Taking a barge to Limbang
Barge at Limbang

Have been sitting reading in the bottom of this barge for Labuan.  Three dreary hours have just passed – the first 2 in a hazy somnolent stupour against my packs and dripping from every pore beneath the sweltering sun.  There is absolutely nothing to look at from the bulwarks above – just the same sea, lazily waving in the same patterns as it did twenty miles back.  In the distance the same casual pale blue line of hills.  We are due to land at Labuan in an hour and a half.  I look forward to the landing at it means getting out of this dreary hot box – and most important – there should be some mail from you darling, awaiting.

[2 Aug 1945]

Things ain’t just what they should be.  No mail and no transport out of here tomorrow – which means a day wasted in sitting on my rear and grinding my teeth with sheer impotency.

We are in a new camp, a pleasant enough spot under the palms & facing the beach, but miles from any blasted where I could do some work.  Alan Dawes, Smyth, and Adams, are on the way home.  Only Cliff remains.

The only thing to do is to try and get some of the clammy sweat out of my clothes.  I have been getting around too much to be able to get them washed.  Looks like a cold water lick for them this morning.

Mail goes out shortly so bulletin will be cut to short issue.  The boys tell me that the mail has been delayed so I will not go into hysterics yet.  Today 3 weeks since I left Sydney and no news from the home front.

All rather grim not knowing how you & Bub are getting along.

Lots of love



I wrote a poem of sorts while spine bashing at Kuala Belait.

They are my clothes hanging there
Limp in the Borneo sun
And threaded on a sagging rope.
I can accept the flat green leaves
Gently swaying as the hawk
Who sails above the swish of surf
I can accept the bare chested soldier
His stained fag hanging from his lips
While he ties his singlet on the line
With string
I can accept the drifting mountain cloud
Of rolling oil fire smoke
Which canopies the sea
I can accept the clanking of the pans
The cook without enthusiasm
Washes in the hot and chlorinated water
I can accept the butterfly
Who flutters wavy and but once
Past the tents vee shaped pane of light


Dyak warriors with unidentified War Correspondents at Limbang, B
Dyak warriors with unidentified War Correspondents at Limbang, Borneo (possibly Cliff Eager on left)
Dyak warriors with an unidentified War Correspondent at Limbang,
Dyak warriors with an unidentified War Correspondent at Limbang, Borneo
Dyak warriors, Limbang, Borneo
Dyak warriors, Limbang, Borneo
Dyak natives, Limbang
Dyak natives, Limbang
Dyak warriors, Limbang, Borneo
Dyak warriors, Limbang, Borneo
Dyak warriors, Limbang, Borneo
Headhunters, Dyak warriors, Limbang, Borneo
Dyak warrior. The Dyaks are small in stature with almost feminin
Dyak warrior. The Dyaks are small in stature with almost feminine like features but reknowned for being deadly head-hunters
[Study, Dyak warrior, Limbang area, Sarawak II]
[Study, Dyak warrior, Limbang area, Sarawak II]

21 x 11 cm 21 x 11 cm 21 x 11 cm 24 x 18 cm 21 x 11 cm 21 x 11 cm24 x 18 cm 24 x 18 cm

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