War Letters – Borneo: 10-11 Aug 1945, Labuan; Peace rumours & concerns about getting home

W. E. Pidgeon
c/o Public Relations
1 Aust Corps
Labuan
Friday 9th August
[10 Aug 1945]

I have vowed to let my mo grow till I get home – damn it!

Image17

Darling,

Am back on this island & it looks as if I’ll be bloody well marooned here.  Transport in seems incredibly easier to get than transport out.  Everyone so far as I can see have been sitting on their behinds for days waiting the call for the trip back.  Cliff is on his way back i.e. theoretically but he is still here giving the old spine a bash.  I’ve only been here 2 days but I had requested an arrangement to get me to Balik Papan four or five days ago.

Saturday.  The ink ran out of my pen last night.  So I took the knock on letter writing.  Seems as you have done so too.  I’ve had only one letter since I left Sydney.  Last night the great peace rumours came through and there was a great simmering undercurrent of excitement and supposition amongst the army personnel.  The correspondents saw the probabilities of considerable hold up in transport home and were appropriately apprehensive.  I think the best thing I can do is to come back with what stuff I have rather than spend so much more time waiting for travel to Balik Papan and probably waiting for it from there home.  I should imagine that all the work I could collect down there will be pretty cold fish by the time it gets in the paper if peace is officially announced within the next few days.  I really don’t know what would be the best thing to do as I am not likely to hear from the office for days even if they had the nouce to send a message at all.

Later – have decided to definitely return home as soon as possible.  It is now just a matter of waiting and I suppose it will at least be somewhere near the 20th till I can get there but all this means that I will be at least present on the 24th so behave yo’self and save the grog.  Mail comes in here only three times a week so maybe I was somewhat hasty in my screamings out for letters.  Another mail is due in tomorrow.  You can tell Ivan I met Syd Newman – since this Visitor’s and Observers’ Camp has been moved to the opposite side.  Off the island we have become practically neighbours.  Newman was pleased to hear from Ivan and he obviously thinks a lot of him.

Everyone here expects the official peace announcement at any moment.  Nevertheless there is no excitement.  The everyday routine is still going on as if nothing is happening – which is reasonable enough as the finish will make little immediate change in the status of most of the troops here.  They will obviously have to stay for some time – to collect prisoners, police the country, and control the gradual disbandment of the army.

I am anxious to hear more about you and Graham.  How’s that alleged tooth coming along?  I suppose he is on pretty hard tack now.  I hope he is eating something that is easy to give him.  You’d better save some meat coupons for some juicy steak and eggs for poor lean Will.  I have had the bully beef and M & V & consequently eat rather lightly.  I seem to have lost a bit of the meat off my mug and to have got rid of my beer gut.  I’ll wire you from my first overnight port of call in Australia.  I’ll phone if I can.  Perhaps I will be home sometime towards the end of next week.  Who knows.  I have finished an article for “The Weekly” but it looks as if I’ll have to redraft it in view of the unexpected developments.  I may as well bring the thing back with me than mail it.  Hope Mum is well.  Lots of love to you and your little bub.

Bill

We spend our days on this St. Helena in slothful annoyance alternating with frolicks in the luke warm China sea and sun baking or reading beneath the coconut palms.  I lost all the skin off my chest and shins thanks to the exuberance of the Borneo sun.

Image18Love Willie

P.S. Don’t write after you get this letter.

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

War Letters – Borneo: 3 Aug 1945, Weston; Jeep train to Beaufort

W. E. Pidgeon
c/o Public Relations
1 Aust Corps
3 Aug Friday [1945]

 

Dear Jesso,

Am in a stinking little grey bleached place called Weston – arrived here after 4 1/2 hours in another barge and the trip was just as hot and dull as that from Brunei.  Soft lotions of frankiness and myrth would be more beneficial to my skin than these down pouring blasts of heat.  Yesterday in Labuan we took a day off and lazed in the sun and surf and under the coconut palms while the China Sea sent sweet cooling winds to dry away the sweats.  It seemed so cool, although it was 87 degrees (symbol) in the shade of the tents that Cliff and I just sopped up sun in a big way.  Half an hour after retiring to the tent I took on a particularly choice hue of Alizarin Crimson which makes a very striking colour combination in juxtaposition to my green shirt, and makes for a very tender shoulder, not the sort of shoulder on which to sling the many and weighty packs I am lugging around.  We got up at 5.30 this morning, and waited till 8.15 for the barge to pull out.  Of course this barge must miss contact with the 12.00 jeep train that runs from here to Beaufort.  So we are waiting again.  Just a mere 2 hours for the next.  2 hours as lively as one could wish for – just as if you were on one of those unattended railway stations out west.  This jeep train is, I believe, as I haven’t yet seen it, a collection of motley old carriages and trucks pulled along a light narrow gauged line by a jeep which has had its ordinary wheels replaced by a railway type.  Weston is a hive of activity – three natives just staggered past.

Beaufort 8.30 pm.  So far this is a bastard of a place.  After a really stinking day we have been unloaded into an old evacuated house to which clings a rare odour of old Chinese or Japs.  (At least that is what I presume that is what it is).  To cap matters there’s no even a bleeding light in the whole flaming joint.  Consequently I’m writing this in a Salvation Army social tent housing at the moment 25 lively tea drinkers and one cud-chewer which is me.  The tables groan under the weight of many cuppas (or rather tinnas), the conversation is subdued but constant – the radio more than holds its own against all other noise.  Four other diligent letter writers compete with my silence.  It’s all very much like the lounge of an hotel only the liquor is tea (or whatever it may be – I am completely baffled by the taste) and the only occupants naturally are men.  It is quietly social.  And is the only place wherein I can find light enough to write this letter.  Incidentally I am the only baldy in the place, and for that matter one of the few I meet in the whole army under the rank of Colonel or Brigadier.  Nevertheless the fruitful climate of Borneo has brought forth on any arid head a fine crop of 4 or 5 brand new hairs.  These grow straight and bravely upright down the centre of  the field.  My continuity of thought is breaking down under the strain of trying to hear what everyone is saying.  The tea is evidentially encouraging them to compete with the volume of the wireless – the general level of noise has risen by 100 percent.  I think I’ll have another go at the brew that is coming out now – it seems to have some stimulating virtues from what I can here.  It’s hot and wet – it tastes sweet and has a dark cloudy look  – but I still don’t know what it is.

The jeep train was worth the trip even if there is little in it as a serious drawing job.  Perhaps a comic sketch.  The steam engines which used to draw the trucks and carriages have broken down and are under repair.  The ubiquitous jeep takes their place and draws up to 3 cars behind them. The one we came up on consisted of first a flat top truck, next an ordinary one, and lastly a box car for the rations.  Chinese and Malays occupied the first, and soldiers the second.

jeep train

It is an interesting trip.  The narrow gauge leads the train by disused paddy fields through long and delightful tunnels of tropical green.  The rubber trees meet in an arch overhead and the undergrowth that has been growing in the plantations for the last 3 1/2 years forms walls of fern and palm and flowering lasiandra which brush the body as you pass.  As a rule the track itself is carpeted in grass and only the polished lines indicate the way ahead.  An intimate green pathway over which our trucks clunkety – clunk with all the noises save that of the great asthmatic huffing of a real train.  Natives stand aside for us to pass and look just like the line people back home – but you miss the cry of “Paper! Paper!” At occasional clusters of houses in the plantations we pull up at a station and unload to the screechings and joviality’s of the Chinese.  I shall continue the train trip further onto Papar in a few days time.

Am looking forward to getting a letter in a few days.  I hope that you are both all right – also Mum.  How’s the pool and fitties?  Have you been giving the Coyes a rest.  I am feeling very holy and very well – don’t care if I don’t have a drink at all and certainly have no desire to collect myself any more hangovers.

Lots of love dear – tell little Graham Poppa thinks often of him always when I see the kids up here and there are thousands of them.

Love

Bill

Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Rail carriages used by the Jeep Train
Rail carriages used by the Jeep Train
Along the Jeep Train line between Weston and Papar
Along the Jeep Train line between Weston and Papar
AWW 1945-09-08 p17 Jeep Train - Copy
All aboard the jeep train for Beaufort, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 8 Sep 1945, p17

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.

Image13

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.

Labuan
Thursday
[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

Bill

 

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