War Letters – NW Australia: 12 July 1943, Brisbane; Reflections

[c.12 July 1943, Brisbane – Whilst awaiting transfer to Darwin, Wep wrote five pages reflecting upon the circumstances that led to him being in Brisbane; from the moment Alice Jackson, editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly, rang his home a week earlier to summon him in to the office. His latest cover celebrating American Independence Day had just been published. It was not written as a letter to Jess, and had no apparent ending.]

Independence Day 1943, Wep, The Australian Women’s Weekly, July 3, 1943, Cover

I was angrily unhappy. The phone rang and my wife said it was the office calling. I was suddenly sadly unhappy. From here where doing something I don’t like, to something I positively hated. Editors are alright in their time and place, like doctors, and that is not on a cold and astrologically unfavourable morning when one is feeling unhappy, even angrily.

So I’m wanted in the office and I haven’t shaved or eaten or even got over getting out of the wrong side of the bed. And then of course I miss the boat1Northwood ferry because the two minutes time our clock is always short of. The forty minutes later would, as fate inexorably will it, be proudly ferrying the mother of one of those wretched infant prodigies of art. A rowing boat would be a sound investment – slow – but soulful.

I come out of the trance to hear the editor saying it seems – yes, and we’re sending you to Darwin for a couple of hours to do a complete compilation of life in the far north. Can you get away by yesterday?

“Oh, yes, yes,” I promise the world but secretly reckon that for the Northern Territory only, I can hedge a bit on the vows.

For a week it’s all very vague and hurried, a few recollections come to light of a tailor saying H’m well make your suit inside out – of photographs which look like a balded Arnold Haskell – of an energetic sweat despite the cold – and some more photos for the office which will come in handy for the obituary if the plane falls to pieces in mid air.

Wep in his War Correspondent’s uniform

About 12 midday after packing effects, personal and impersonal, I find I’m responsible for a huge weight and a most imposing bulk of gear which will probably never be used. At 2 am it’s down to only 40 lbs overweight; i.e. allowing for 40 lbs of clothing – razor, teeth, wig, etc. – The 40 lbs over represents false nose, paints, easel, canvas, paper, and all those oddly dirty things which artists use. The problem is whether sacrifice the paints or go quite naked. This one is, at 2am, quite easy, that is the pigeon of the office.

And in no time at all I’m in Brisbane. Diplomatic courtesy forbids me mention this noble duty except in so far as to mention that it is situate the south eastern corner of Queensland and has most salubrious and invigorating climate as well as women of presentable appearance and engaging manners.

I sleep in American quarters, I eat with Americans – I see pictures with Americans. I dream about Americans. I get blood taken out of me by Australians at the gentle suburb of Greenslopes and I’m told I have never had malaria. It would be something of a miracle if I had – but then it is just one of those things that science likes to prove you haven’t got. Caught a taxi back – holy heavens, what a price! Could scarcely have charged the newest boy from Oklahoma more. However the office paid up with good grace.

And so to the sleepless cot swaying amongst the sighings, the yowlings, the dropping of boots, the cleaning of teeth, the pulling of chairs, the washings of faces, the gurglings of throats, the coming ins and going offs of American airmen on service leave. No need for the night porter to call me at 3.30 a.m.. I’m looking at the City Hall clock and trying to work out what’s going on in the air raid shelter just opposite.

Doughnuts and coffee thanks to the American Red Cross.


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    Northwood ferry

War Letters – NW Australia: 11 July 1943, Brisbane; Socialising

Oxford House
Sunday 8.30 am

[11 July 1943]

I haven’t had malaria! – now aint  that a surprise to us all!

I’m leasing a monk like existence – Friday night after finding my kitbag I went to the pictures & saw “The Moon & Sixpence”.  It wasn’t much chop.  Saturday morning after returning from the hospital which was out along the road to that trailer camp we parked at five years ago I went with the boys to a pub and amazingly managed to get about six beers down before the drought set in.

Met another correspondent who had my phone number and a note from me in my own writing in his note book.  Neither he nor I have the faintest idea what it was about.  We had met him at the Royal Standard last year.  A civilian turned up who knew him – we were introduced & he said ‘not Bill Pidgeon?”.  “But yes” I say.  “Married a girl from the P.D.S.”  “U-huh” = me.  “Well” sez he “I’m Roy West, you and Jess had a drink with Jean Smith & I at the Great Southern just before we got married.”  What a teeny-weeny little world!  He and Jean have amicably parted.

Left him and went round to the Gresham hotel for dinner, in the midst of which a croaking voice hails me from behind & none other than dear old debtor Francis Clancy beams upon my shaken face.  “Christ, can’t I ever get away from you” I ask.  However he was sober and didn’t worry me.  Said he would ring this morning – but I won’t be here.  Am going down to have a look at what the boys call the press circus, i.e. G.H.Q. conference & handout.

Caricature study on Gresham Hall, Brisbane note paper, July 11, 1943

I rang Eager but couldn’t contact him – he is away at his stud farm doesn’t return until tonight.

The food in this joint is very good.  The Yanks see to it that their bellies are well looked after.  According to the local correspondents they look after their John Thomases too with loving care & affection – see to it that they are never starved.

Went to bed at 8.30 pm last night.  Am getting sick of walking round the blocks!

Tell King I have met a lot of the boys.

Hugh Dash       –           Brammal
Lloyd Clarke   –           Hutton
Jack Brairs (?) –          Peterson
Mishael             –           Fitzhenry

Brisbane full of correspondents.  English Australian American.  I haven’t met Williams yet.

War Letters – NW Australia: 10 July 1943, Brisbane; Awaiting malaria test

“Everybody gapes at my green armbands”

[10 July 1943]

Dear Jesso,

Poor little Willie

Is sitting alone

I’m out at a military hospital waiting for results of a malaria test.  Everyone going north has to have a Malaria free certificate.

Arrived here at 1.15 after a pleasant trip.  When we got to ANA office in Brisbane I left my gear & reported to the Public Relations people where I had to get a further pass & have arrangements made for transport further on.  So far as I know I’m leaving Monday.

Contacted Hughie Dash, Telegraph representative here.  He took me round, got me accommodation at a PRIVATE hotel.  When I returned to pick up the luggage – the blasted kit bag was missing.  One of the girls seemed to think it a great joke that she had seen a soldier take it out.  Christ! Was I mortified!  Panic swept over me like a steamroller.  Your heart would have bled for me.  The manager was a little more civilized & suggested it may have been picked up by mistake.  So he started ringing all the military folk who were on the plane.  None of them had it.  At 6.30 pm I staggered down to the Police & reported.  Tottered back to the ANA & at 7 pm the bloody thing turned up!  A RAAF driver had taken it in mistake.  I’d have got drunk if there was anything to drink in this God-damned dry joint.  The beer here just ‘aint!  It’s only for ½ hour midday and again from 4.45 pm to 5.15 pm.  A seething screaming mob of soldiers and civilians battle grimly for a smell of what’s going.  Most of them only get a look at it.  Hugh Dash, Ian Gall, cartoonist and Roy Connolly, (of Colin Wills wife fame) & I managed to get 4 beers & 3 rums between 2 pubs.  Grog was then over.

Brisbane is a hell of a lot busier than Sydney.  Streets are jammed with cars and people.  Vast vistas of squealing yanks open before the eyes.  The place is lousy with them.  At night the city is scarcely less infested than in day.  S’Awful!  Everybody gapes at my green armbands – most embarrassing – one hears – “Big Shots!”, “General Staff” etc.  Mortifying!  All the others have learnt from experience to wear inconspicuous metal badges.  The correspondents life is not a happy one!


Am leaving for Darwin at tremendously early hour as appointed.  Lots of love, be good and give me some kind thoughts – love


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