Just a note – I haven’t much time to write at any length as I’m only staying at this American bomber field for a day. This will be fully occupied getting around & having a look see. It is a big camp & takes a lot of covering. Will let you know more about it later.
Won’t be getting back to Darwin until Wednesday which is unfortunate as I can’t get my mail until I return. Hope everyone got my letters OK. Unless Mrs Jackson [Alice Jackson; editor of the Australian Women’s Weekly] gets up here before I leave I expect to be home fairly shortly – am getting to the stage of saying Thank God for that.
The yanks do themselves pretty well in the way of food – they have more variety & pay much more attention to its preparation than do our own troops.
Expect to be making back along the road tomorrow and to complete a couple of notes I have taken.
Christ it’s hot here. Sweat is just cascading off me. However it is not all distressing – feels quite pleasant as a matter of fact as the breeze evaporates it almost immediately. Nothing like Sydney’s heat – i.e. Sydney’s summer heat to you.
Lots & lots of love honey. Am looking forward to getting your letters – I feel quite out of date.
I’m still here. I suppose you gave me a little thought when you read that N.T. area had been raided by 18 Jap planes on Friday night.* Well, your little Willie was right out of it. It occurred during the middle of the party I spoke of in my last letter. We were all gathered around some tables in the middle of the bush not far from one of the air strips (as they call the aerodromes here) when the warning came over. Some of the pilots had to dash off to their Spitties. The lights went off and we continued our drinking in the bright moonlight assisted by the light of a parachute flare which one of the Jap planes dropped over the area. Old deafie didn’t hear the planes – there was so much alcoholic conversation being broadcast. A moment later ack-ack fire started – booms & flashes split the night. Shrapnel from the bursts fell in the camp where I stayed last week. Fortunately for us the Japs weren’t after the fighter planes – they flew past & dropped their eggs near 2 bomber fields. One of these I described to you as being situated in the hills. I stayed there on Wednesday night. The yellow boys might just as well have saved their time, petrol and bombs as neither damage nor casualties (so far as I have heard) were inflicted. So – a miserable flare is all I’ve seen of the war up in this front line. There appears to be an expectation of another bash tonight – it being a magnificently full moon. Perhaps it is just as well I’m not in Darwin or staying in a bomber camp, although they tell me that even a poor bloody Allied Works Council camp stopped a stick of bombs last night. The only physical stress I have collected is plenty of bites – and then some. I scratch like a lousy old dog.
The party was pretty willing while it lasted. Met a Spitty pilot from one of the squadrons who asked how both you and I were keeping. We met him outside St James theatre with Paul Brennan and some others just before they left for Canada two years ago.
Have just been asked if I’d like to go down to an American bomber field tomorrow. Think I’ll go down & see what sort of holes the bombs made. I don’t know that it would be terrible healthy to stay down there – I’ll see about that later.
Cripes I’m missing you honey. Am really looking forward to getting home. This life of celibacy is not what it’s cracked up to be. You’re in for a torrid time my chicabiddy when the bronzed old boy gets back. I don’t know that you’ll go much on my colour/pattern – I’m getting browned as far as the waist only, from there down snow white takes over. Have been letting my mo grow a pace – perhaps you should buy me a moustache cup.
How are the Watson family coming along? How’s the concrete idiot child? And Bib & Bub?
Very quiet night – we are all sitting round like little goody boys – all writing to our dearests and sweetests. All of which refers me back to wimmimck(?) How’s Tommy’s Art for arts(?) sake? Has he had the animated Selina out again? Did you see her stripped – is she still much the same?
Sunday morning [15 JAug 1943] before breakfast
I get up early – as a rule before the sun. The night passed off without incident which is all very well.
Called at a Sergeants’ tent before going to bed. They were all on the jungle juice – a potent and horrible brew of their own manufacture made out of anything they can lay their hands on – prunes, dried fruits – potato peelings, jam – sugar & old boots, topped off with a liberal dose of yeast. It looks like milk bar washing up water and tastes and smells like old yeast. It is alleged to turn the mildest of men into maniacal dervishes. I didn’t have any. The conversation was still on the dames and what they would do to them on return to the flesh pots of our fair city in the south.
That’s all for the moment, dear Willie is signing off. Get your squeezing muscles ready my sweet for the old boy won’t be long now. (I hope!) Love in bundles for Jessie.
No 1. I live in tents – i.e. at different places – not in tents at one time.
No 2. A pilot wrote that on your letter – he was in his cups – I’ll decipher it for you later.
[*Note: Four raids occurred on the night of Friday 13th August and the early hours of Saturday morning. They were aimed at Hughes Airfield, Fenton airfield (9:45pm), Fenton & Coomalie Creek airfields (11:12pm) and Long airfield in the early hours of Saturday 14th August (Dunn, P 2013, Japanese Air Raids in Australia During WW2, Australia@War, viewed 14 August 2013, <http://www.ozatwar.com/bomboz.htm>). The raid which Wep refers to was most likely the attack at 11:12pm on Fenton and Coomalie Creek where he had been staying two nights earlier.]
After posting yesterday’s letter I had a most welcome surprise. One of your letters was delivered to me via the good graces of an Officer who had been in Darwin. It was quite a treat.
I have a box of 200 cigs put away for you. I can’t bring anything else much down because I will still have weight limits to consider on the place trip.
See if you can buy some poultry shears. I don’t know what I want – leave till I come home – it won’t be long. Whacko the dinner – and after?! Your letters ar’nt censored. So speak freely. Am back now with the crowd from Sydney. Amused them all last night with mad sketches of them waiting for a shower and straining at the stool. They were well received. Prior to the padre’s (there is one here at the moment) departure last night the drawings were strictly on the up & up.
One of the Captains here took me for a run to the dam which supplies Darwin with water. It’s a pretty big affair and water is held back for about 7 miles. The Manager of the plant there lives in a delightful cottage overlooking the river which flows from the foot of the spillway. Tall and gracious ti trees intermingled with pandanas palms and eucalypts shade the languid water lilies. His house on the hillside is surrounded with the greenest pawpaws, bananas, jacarandas and gums. A rustic fountain plays amid tropical lilies speckled like coleus. Bush orchids hang on the trees, citrus fruit, chrysanthemums, flocks and tomatoes add variety to the pattern. Hanging baskets of purple backed leaves complete the picture. The dam itself is full of fish which we could quite plainly see – perch – garfish – & one tiny snake swimming on the surface – a boat is moored nearby. It’d make a wonderful weekender. Apparently anything grows at any time during the dry season. The ground is extraordinarily indulgent when supplied with plenty of water.
The climate is getting one a bit lazy now. Also I am becoming somewhat rattled as time is drawing to a close – there are so many odds & ends I want to check on. I suppose I’ll find I haven’t half enough stuff or have overlooked something – when I start in re drawing it all.
Next weekend I am flying over to a mission station where are plenty of blacks etc. Should be a wad of material in it. Native dances, tropical scenery. Air force base, shipping scenes, crocodiles – in fact – the whole works.
You can’t help but be amused at the conversation in the territory. Only 2 basic topics – women & beer discussed ad infinitum. Lurid speculation precedes the arrival of the Tivoli ballet. I shudder to think of the boys’ conversation after each performance.
Have borrowed a pair of shorts from the Loot at Darwin, hoping to get my legs a bit sunburnt – so far all I have collected is several hundred sand fly bites. A microscopic fly with a Gargantuan bite.
Am due at the big do tonight so cheerio whilst I am still whole & healthy.
How’s my little pet today? Listening to Janie? Going to the pub? Reading to the Watsos? Or just thinking of Willie?
Am at another camp where I stayed last night. Am moving up the road this afternoon where I shall pass the evening with the Sydney fellows from the Auto Club.
The crowd of pilots fly Beaufighters, a twin engined job used for strafing the nips on islands 300 to 400 miles from here. They are somewhat older than the Spitfire boys but are all in early twenties. The Commanding officer is youngish tall, dark & could easily pass for a brother of Good-O. Something about his face is remarkably like her. The air force COs are much more friendly than their counterparts in the army. I suppose this is so because they are much younger.
An Army Liaison officer attached to this unit came up to me last night and asked if I was wep. Said he thought he recognised me. Asked if I recollected trying to cook sausages with a blow lamp in the main street of Tamworth. He was at the dance at Tamworth Golf Club. Fancy coming 2,000 miles to have that brought up! Wep, my girl, is a name to be contended with! – A young chap of 23 took me in tow last night & fed me with a few whiskies. At ten o’clock we suppered on toast, asparagus and SARDINES! Sorry I can’t bring you any down but I am not supposed to buy anything from their mess store. In case you get the wrong idea that I am wallowing in epicurean luxury I might add that the usual mess meal is only too often blasted tinned bully beef – (tasteless goddamn stuff) & margarine which no one I have so far struck is inclined to eat. Dry Bread is the standing order now. It’s 3 weeks since the troops have had any butter. You can imagine my sufferings.
This is the best camp I have been in. Situated on the slopes of one of the few hills around this country it is sprinkled amongst delightful open forest. Beautifully green trees, plenty of palms – and birds galore. Dawn is a rare pleasure – you wake to the low and penetrating calls of the birds, and the air is as soft & cool as a whisper.
The shower is the coldest I’ve had up here – dispersed my crumbiness in a trice.
Gave the old sand fly bites their necessary scratchings & offed to breakfast of bully beef rissoles and tinned bacon. For heavens sake get some sucker down there to eat ours. I’ve completely had it. Practically every morning since I arrived. I never want to see it again. It dished up like limp ham boiled in washing up water.
I’m afraid you and I will have a few guests when I return. So many of the lads have been very kind to me. I have asked them all to give us a ring if & when they are in Sydney.
Hope to see you soon sweetheart. Better get all beautified for you birfday & little Will. Lots of kisses. Wish I was at Darwin in case I get a letter.
Got another letter from you posted the 6th. Thanks sweet you’re doing very well indeed. Sorry you haven’t had any mail for 5 days. I can’t understand that as I don’t think at any time have I gone longer than 2 days without sending you something. Maybe a censor somewhere has tossed one out. Why I wouldn’t know.
Sometimes I get fed up with it here. I think I’ll just clean up a few more things & come home within 3 weeks. To cover everything would take me months. So get ready to receive me right. Am looking forward to seeing you again – it does seem such a long time – doesn’t it?
Wrote 4 letters on Sunday to you, George Finey, King Watson, and the boys at the office. So that’s that. I was quite exhausted after it all.
We have all been washing & ironing today as the batman is sick. Frank Tierney knows all about the job. I think he must have been a good wife to somebody.
Yesterday I spent with a bomber squadron and managed to get a good set up of the ‘erks’ (as the air force call the ranks who do the hard manual work) loading bombs into a plane.
Sunday afternoon I make a very quick note of a funeral near here. Two of the mercantile marine seamen who were killed when Japs bombed a ship a few days ago off the coast north from here. I think it would make quite a good picture.
Made a quick water colour sketch of one of the bombed houses here. Water colors are hellishly awkward to manage out of doors. The colour dries on the box before you can get it onto the paper.
Am dashing this letter off because I’m going up the road a little way to finish off a painting of a swimming pool I started some time ago. As the mail will go before I return I am in haste to express my adoration.
You must be stopping a packet of cold weather down there. The “Army News” (local paper) mentions it nearly every day.
Yes I am getting sunburnt. Poor old nut had peeled several times and is now sweetly crowned with a tiara of freckles. Borrowed a pair of shorts from the Loot yesterday so hope to lose the lily whiteness of my nether limbs.
It’s a hot day but with extra pleasant cool breeze coming off the sea. The climate here much to be preferred to that down the road where there is a great lack of breeze. The water pipe line feeding Darwin is exposed to the sun and the water from it is incredibly hot where it is tapped into camps alongside it. Almost to hot to shower under. In Darwin you can have a shower any old time night or day & it’s just beaut-o!
Will be off to the pictures tonight to see “Sun Valley Serenade” again. Be pleasant to see Sonia skiing whilst we swelter & combat the mosquitoes.
Guess I’ll have to be getting along it is now almost 3pm. So put your arms around yourself for me & save me some great big kisses. Lots of love sweetheart – till I see you soon.
Am going back to the tap house this morning & am in great dither to get a letter once more. It’s an isolated sort of life the folks live up here – each day rapidly becomes the same as another when one stays at the camp for any time. Yesterday I’d just about had enough – I couldn’t draw – I was damned hot – I was full of ants – I wished I was home.
This morning it’s a bit cooler. Naturally I’m somewhat stronger.
I haven’t written to the boys at the office yet but I suppose you give them some information at times.
Have found out some more details about Paul [comment – Maj. W.M. Paul?] which I can tell you when I return.
A pleasant little item you can tell the lads. A notice on the routine orders board –
“Advice has been received from the A.P.M. N.T. Forces that an aboriginal – Mary – has been apprehended in the [censored] area. On being examined by the Medical Authorities she was found to be suffering from leprosy (advanced). Any person having had contact with any native in the [censored] area is to report to the Squadron medical Officer immediately.”
A pretty thought.
There is not a great deal to do about a fighter squadron – one plane is the same as the rest of them. Main concentration has been on the dispersal room which I indicated in drawing to you last letter.
There is much uninspired letter writing done from here as after the first month all novelty is gone for the pilots. For 3 or 4 months their routine is exactly the same every day. Up early – arrive at dispersal hut – then lounge in deck chairs all day waiting for a raid which seldom arrives. Must be colossally boring. Their reactions come occasionally when they get roaring drunk. Leave every 3 or 4 months which is much more than anyone else gets. But these lads need it alright.
Be nice if I could work in some comfort. Disabilities & heat have just about buggered me this week. And yet I don’t care for Darwin – it’s too far from any of the material I want & there’s also the bloody typewriters.
The steward at the bar here is an amazing replica of Ron Bennett (emaciated) complete as to hair, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, etc. Face a trifle narrower. Ron’s old man must have been around.
Don’t need eye-drop prescription. A drop a day doesn’t take any away.
Attached are life like drawings of press correspondents at work and play.
Lots and lotza to my lil’ honey chile
from the celibate
Think I’ll come down in the Flying boat instead of wearying my way overland through Alice Springs. A great squeeze for you.
An officer just came in with an official message. Speaking of inter area personal communications over telegraph line. Requested to cease. Instances communication between air signals man & WAAF Signals women. “———-“ We could do with some WAAFs up here.” Official comment is – This sort of thing must cease – if message such as this fell into enemy hands they would naturally surmise that a shortage of manpower existed in this area.
Been quite an exhausting day. Plenty hot and plenty weak. However I pulled my gizzard up & got stuck into the work of drawing some fighter planes. They’re sleek jobs and surprisingly small. You don’t get much idea of their performance when seen on duty flights around this district. Rarely are they flown flat out except in combat. After seeing them on the ground dirty dented & camouflaged you’d think they weren’t worth a plateful of cold tapioca pudding. But the boys like them.
The pilots are all hellishly young. The average age being about 22. The Squadron leader looks youngest of all like a bit of a school kid. They have all had English experience & are a good bright lot. I get along very well with them as they are friendly & informal. The binge last night served well in breaking the ice. Almost all were as full as bulls. Incidently none of the crowd seem to like the journalists much. Being an artist makes everything so much easier. Tell Tommy there is a bit of a hoon up here – name of Pilot Officer Larry Alderson – says he knew him well in N.G. Gloria’s husband Flight Loot Newton isn’t a bad sort of bloke – Looks after me well. [Believed to be John Sefton Newton and Gloria Olga Newton (nee Metchkoff Larsen, m 1943] I still haven’t managed to buy anyone a drink. One is not allowed to – they insist on my being a guest. A big crowd of bomber pilots were also down last night. The film was fast & furious.
There’s some blasted thing I should tell you but for the life of me I can’t remember it. Guess it’ll come later.
Yes! I’ve got it! Do you recollect the air force medical officers at that party of Tilly’s at which Bill Brindle & his wife were present. One of the crowd from up the road turned out to be one of them. He is now a Wing Commander. He was then a Fl. Lieutenant so he’s managed to step up very nicely.
Flash – last night two of the pilots after a sufficient steeping in the fiery juices set off on journey back to tent. One – hopelessly lost curled up on the floor of a brother officers tent. The other made the grade & work about an hour later with the tent in flames around him. Much hilarity whilst domicile was razed to the ground.
May be off to see “In which we serve” tonight – that is – if I don’t get sucked into the alcoholic vortex which is apparently about tom swirl any tick of the clock.
I’m still not 100%.
It doesn’t look as if I’ll be down by the 24th. You will probably forgive me but it would be best for me not to dash down without properly doing the place over. I’d love to be there. However have a good dinner. Get that or the other casserole or what ever you like – go to £20. With love from your devoted, Willie.
Thursday [5 Aug 1943]
Bad show I didn’t mail the above pages this morning. I went up to the strip with a crowd of pilots at 6.30am and arrived by at 4pm. Consequently missed the bus, I mean the mail.
This blarsted country is full of things wot bite. Between the heat & the wogs I’m as knobbly as a mills bomb.
All day the fighter lads lounge about inside their dispersal hut (near the ‘drome) in attitudes crooked but horizontal.
There they remain, with but slight variation waiting for the call to arms. One morning early at least 4 of them were asleep when an alert came over. Like trains through a station they were off & in the air. Fortunately the aircraft responsible for the alarm was identified as friendly.
The weather seems to be getting hotter. Myself more enervated. Sweat rolls off me – thirsty ants swim up my cascading body & quaff the salty juices. Beaut-O!
There’s been quite a lot of feeling that it’s near time the yellow men come over. They sunk a ship a few days ago & have been fairly active. A couple of months have passed since they did anything and the fighter lads are anxious to have a crack at them to relieve the boredom.
Hope Harold Coy has been behaving. [Harold and Bassie Coy ran the Hotel Hunters Hill, a favoured drinking spot of Wep and Jess.] Also the damned old Ponty. You poor darling I dare say Jane has been giving you the real works. Is Tommy up north indefinitely?
Hope Dossie’s little girl doesn’t have 6 tits – it’ll be awful hard to find a beau with 6 hands.
Some bear bandit or other has got down on my bottle whilst Iwas away. That’s the sort of thing that leads to lynching in this h’yar country. You can as King from me – Where is the Ethics Committee of the A.J.A? What are they doing about it all? When are they going to send a missionary up here?
That there smudge is sweat.
Which reminds me you mentioned Turkish Baths. Haven’t you had any? Why don’t you go away somewhere for a couple of weeks? It’s getting right hot, mu chickadee. I’m afraid this climate would suit you down to the ground. I can’t see how one could stay very flat what with all this here perspiring going on.
Don’t get too morbid, honey. It won’t be long before I’m home. How’s the houses for sale? Why don’t you go around and have a look at a few just to get an idea of value, etc. I can’t think of anything for the flairs.
When its winter
Way down yonder
It’s a pint’er
Beer I ponder
And a bit er bread
An’ butter an’ a sponge
Which reminds me how’s frige behaving?
Lots of love from yours meltingly,
[On top of 1st page is a note written by another person]
Hello Jess you beautiful thing I love you despite all absences(?).
A hurried line to tell you I’ve arrived at the fighter strip. Tuesday being beer issue night was willing. I will write you details tonight as I’m just scribbling this to make sure you get a letter a day (to keep admirers away). Am feeling queer. – What again! – They’re a fine bunch of kids down here.
Will write you at length this evening. So be content with reciprocated love & hugs & kisses
I may as well carry on with the news concluded by the letter I posted you by today’s mail. As I’m going down the road tomorrow I won’t be writing. This letter will serve that day’s purpose as it won’t get away from here until then. This week I am staying with a fighter squadron under the command of Caldwell – shall probably meet Flutter eye Gloria’s husband – I believe he is with the same bunch.
Thanks for thinking about my lack of amenities. I’m running somewhat short – only 24 large packets left.
I hope Tommy got as much out of his drawing as he hoped for. Selina is dopey alright. Are you still getting plenty of steak over there?
The thing has started off again – Gawd help us! Tap-tap-tap-BLOODY TAP! This will be damn short – I get into such a helluva bate (?). It’s worse than being in a machine gun nest with all guns firing and hailstones beating on my tin hat. I’m not deaf enough to take it – Tap – tap – taP – tAP – TAP TAPTAP! – and so on.
I’ll write you tomorrow some time – or else wait till the bastards go to bed. Up’em!
[3 Aug 1943]
Next morning – Much quieter – I am by far the earliest bird up here, all of which doesn’t help catch the non existent worms, but it’s plumb peaceful like. Inside, spines are slowly being zipped into action, razors being flapped, and kidneys drained in preparation for a general exodus down the road in the wake of the Governor-General who has begun his tour of inspection.
Yesterday he reviewed the N.W. navy such as it was. We got out onto the flagship & under panicky directions of some naval lieut. allowed ourselves to be hid behind pipes, vents, doors, etc so that the G.G.’s august vision would not be defiled by the sight of the lowly non-combatant press correspondents. It was wretched farce – the boys have wiped the navy or so they say. Seems more like to me the navy doesn’t care about the press. The review of passing ships was catastrophic. Some of the old tubs couldn’t make any speed against the out-running tide, with the unhappy consequent cancellation of part of the programme.
The tide, by the way, has a rise & fall of 20 ft and as the approaches to the land here are very shallow the water when it gets a move on races like one thing. In the harbour I believe it does about 5-6 knots and in the creeks about 10. I’ve seen it coming in on the creeks – it moves alright. The harbour is a big one with an average width & foreshores much like Botany Bay. Because of its lack of depth the water is quite green. Here and there the side of a sunken ship rises up. Somewhere else the masts & funnel of another stick forlornly & ridiculously out to provide parking stations for the few sea birds to be seen in these parts.
Will have to leave now – have had breakfast the all are ready for the trip.
Mail came in & I have just got another of your letters – you beaut. Haven’t read it yet – lots of love honey – look after yourself for Willie.
Sorry I growled about there being no letters from you. Very little mail arrived for anyone last week. Must have been some hitch. Happily I received two this morning and was thereby much delighted.
You seem pretty lonely poor darling – it is obviously sickening to have to either stay home alone or still see the same faces & the same chatter. It’s lonely here as a rule when I’m not working. That is why I like to get out each week to some camp down the road and settle in to steady effort. There is a great deal round about here I want to get on to, moreover the general atmosphere of this mess is slow. At the moment all the correspondents are spine bashing. Apparently there is bugger all for them to find in the way of news with the exception of raids. Now that would be exciting if I didn’t catch a bomb. And the food up here is bloody awful. Margarine, dried eggs, macaroni pudding, stewed tea & leathered meat. That wouldn’t be so bad if the cook thought of something besides going on leave. Believe you me, I’ve been criminally spoilt.
On the beach again yesterday. Water really wonderful – the sunshine and Freds bountiful. I’m losing the lolly pink – changing chameleon like into tiger stripes owing to a little semi spine bashing of my own the other day. Curled up in a deck chair & came to with pink bands across my belly skin where the creases between folds of fat had been retained it lily white line. Got sunburnt on the flat yesterday – result – pink & brown now instead of original barber’s pole style. Nerves not much better – worry a bit about the job as I don’t know how I can remember all the different colour & tones of the scenes I have ideas of portraying. Most of the stuff I want to get down is of the rapid impression type –Much too quick even to get the drawing let alone tone, etc. The only painting I do is to note down appropriate backgrounds & incidentals to the job. Have written these blue lines while waiting for a haircut in a military camp.
He’s a hell of a little barber about as short & thick as a fart. An ex-ladies’ hairdresser from Farmers, or, some say Borrowmans – anyway he cuts a pretty hair. The charge is 1/- of which he gets 6d & his unit comforts fund 6d. You sit on a sawn off log in a parlour of the most delicate hessian. Whilst outside in the ante-room grim faced & spare witted troops purse lips and pen handle heads in the agonising concentration of writing the dear ones at home. I draw. Somebody asks how to spell Americans. I oblige.
Have returned to Happy Messy. This mail is due to go off in 10 minutes. So lots of love dear & keep on writing even if it kills you. Won’t be very long before I see you again. Thanks for the lipstick – tasted good. Love