War Letters – Borneo: 4-6 Aug 1945, Beaufort; An overnight visit to Papar

W. E. Pidgeon
c/o Public Relations
1 Aust Corps
Sat. 4 August [1945]
(Beaufort)

 

Darling,

I have just received your letter dated the first night you spent at Bright .  It was a great treat to hear all about the doings of yourself & Bub.  I mean, young Master Graham.  You tell that silly young galoot to stay putting on weight till dadda comes home – and for you,  my girl forget not the dangers of gross eating at your  mother’s place because I would like to see you wearing pyjamas and the top that the Chinese affect in these parts.  Many of the women are smooth and pleasant in the features and they do their hair into beautiful slick plaits and buns.  Their clothes are always immaculately laundered and are cut to a close fitting finish.  The whole ensemble of colour, sleekness and daintiness of figure gives to them an almost doll like quality and frugility.

I have been trying to get one of those straw hats like

Image15but am meeting with no success as they seem to be made only for personal use and in any case I am stuck for means of transport to where I might pick one up.  There is actually nothing about – one has to realise that 3 weeks or so ago this area was still in Japanese hands and that the RAAF have blown all the shopping areas to bits in all the places I have been to.  Naturally all the saleable commodities went with the wind as well.

Thanks to your old man’s snooping habits and mechanical genius he has the pleasure to be able to write this letter in solitary silence.

This morning I found under the house a crate full of old and rusted Japanese lamps – with a great deal of fossicking I managed to find a couple of poor things, the wicks of which I could just get to move – mostly downward.  Only one is functioning at the moment and is giving out every bit of 2 candle power.  It is a queer doover shaped so

Image16you put the kerosene if you can get any in here.

The whole caboosal measures only 8″ x 6 ” and is extremely temperamental,  Two of them have already given up the ghost – the wicks disappearing in the depths of the oil.  Because of  the grievous shortage of kerosene I cannot call on any of the reserves I have planted by my side.  Any smudges or runnings of oils you may discern on this page are to be accounted for by the leakings in the roof.  It has been raining for 5 minutes and already one side of this table is sporting a pool of water which is poppily dripping from the broken shingles above.  One earnest blob has just fractured the hot lamp glass.

I’m afraid this is the finish of this letter tonight.  The tide is sweeping over the table at an alarming rate.  To bed, my dear, to bed – and safety.  Goodnight.  It’s coming down in bloody sheets.

Monday 6th August. 5pm.

Am at a place by the name of Papar which has the pleasure of a complete blackout at night.  Hence this hurried scrawl as I have to bathe and eat before I settle down for a dreary night.  I’m damned if I can sleep after 3.30 am I get to bed too early.  It is not light till 7.00 so I pass some pretty dull hours – their only enlivenment being thoughts of you and Graham.  It is raining again – everyday for that matter.  This place is on the perimeter and is about 30 miles by jeep train from Beaufort.  I came up this morning – took about 4 hours.  It is a much more pleasant place than Beaufort.  Coming into this area we travelled through some nice open country,  paddy fields on either side were dotted with thatched huts, natives using water buffalo to pull their ploughs, and in the distance the foothills & blue mountains cut across by low lying clouds.  The Japs are over there.  Flanking the railway line the swampy channels are covered with water hyacinths like we have at home and all carry a profusion of purple blooms.  The whole landscape is a harmony of white, blue, green & lilac.  Very good.  Climate is fairly cool but I’m sure it is more an illusion than anything else – as I sweat just as much.

Have just had tea and things are lightening up a bit – I find that the approaching darkness was due more to the storm than to the time of the day.  The thunder was a terrific accompanyment to the deluge which has just finished and has left the whole of the vivid greens in sight floating on pools of yellow muddy water.  Under this light the leaves and grass are an intense green, the green that car headlights sometimes show up.  This is a hell of a fertile country.

I will be returning to Beaufort tomorrow & Wednesday to Labuan from where I hope to get to Balik Papan within a few days.  I shall probably spend a week there & then think of returning home which will, with transport holdups, take a week or longer.  I am not particularly sanguine about my chances of getting back by the 24th.  But will make every effort to do so.  Whacko the anniversary!  We’ll let the young man have his second champagne – that is if you haven’t scoffed it all yet.  I will certainly be back for your birthday.

Lots of love to you, Graham & Mum from the travel bound

Willie

[Jeep train study, Borneo]
Jeep train at Beaufort, Borneo
Jeep Train. Jeeps were modified to haul train wagons and flatbed
Jeep Train – The retreating Japanese had blown up all the steam locomotives so the Army modified Jeeps to haul the wagons and flatbeds
24 x 18 cm
Jeep train study
Train station at Papar
Train station at Beaufort
Train station at Papar
Train station at Beaufort
Train station at Beaufort
Train station at Beaufort
Train station at Papar
Train station at Papar
Church of the Holy Rosary, Papar
Church of the Holy Rosary, Papar
Possibly at Jesselton on the Jesselton to Papar line
Possibly at Jesselton on the Jesselton to Papar line
The Jeep train runs through rubber tree plantations which at times form an arch overhead
The Jeep train runs through rubber tree plantations which at times form an arch overhead

21 x 11 cm

[Note: Wep’s return to Beaufort coincided with the Childrens’ Carnival held on August 8, 1945; organised by members of the 2/43rd Australian Infantry Battalion.  Wep described the carnival in a story he wrote for the Women’s Weekly, (1945 ‘Soldiers in North talk and dream of home.’, The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 8 September, p. 17, viewed 16 May, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47246573)

“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.”]

Scenes around Beaufort at the Childrens' Carnival held on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children’s Carnival held on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children's Carnival held on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children’s Carnival held on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children's Carnival held on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children’s Carnival held on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children's Carnival held on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children’s Carnival held on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children's Carnival held on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children’s Carnival held on August 8, 1945
A gamelin being played
A gamelin being played
Scenes around Beaufort at the Childrens' Carnival on August 8, 1
A gamelin being played at the Beaufort Children’s Carnival
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children's Carnival on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children’s Carnival on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children's Carnival on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children’s Carnival on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children's Carnival on August 8, 1945
Scenes around Beaufort at the Children’s Carnival on August 8, 1945

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