War Letters – NW Australia: 23 July 1943, Darwin; Back to base and noisy correspondents

W.E.Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
Army Post Office
Darwin
Friday
[23 Jul 1943]

 

Darling,

Am back again to the old home comforts.  There are only 4 correspondents here at the moment, thank heavens.  But those at present here are damned voluble – voceriferously arguing the toss on world social system.  I’m too weak to join in.  The mob down the road had a formal mess last night (as they go once a week) this seemed – or rather did – get away on us all.  After beer and sherry – we settled down to some steady gin drinking.  Unfortunately liquor has immediate and body shattering effect.  Hangovers are pretty shaking in this here territory.

Last two nights have been plenty cold.  To my sorry I had taken only 2 blankets with me.  One to sleep on & the other to cover me.  Not enough – your sweet hubby was always glad to see the dawn as most of the night I just lay and shivered.

This is a bugger of a place to write letters.  One cannot continue a line of thought.  Willy nilly the conversation about obtrudes.

Haven’t had any letters from you yet.  What gibes?  Too much social life?  Am anticipating one tomorrow.  I’ll break down & cry or go plumb “Troppo”.

Sorry to say that I’m too tired to write much tonight.  I’d like to be home at the moment lying in my beauto bed reading a thriller-diller.  Or just lying, yes?  Are you being my good little sweet model wifie?  Has Tommy gone north yet?

Lots of love and special juicy kisses.  Save ‘em all up for me.  No giving any away –

Goodnight sweet heart –

Bill

 

5 minutes later

I cannot leave you so.  How’s Ellie? Hours?  My new nephew?  Has Sally conceived?  Noticed in our local daily paper (printed by the army) that another Telegraph correspondent Osmar White has stopped it.

33

Farewell again.  Relapse has hold of me – Pray for my liver my sweet.  Tell King I got his little note.  Is Cyril happy?  Are you minding Tony & Pussy yet?

32

Spose I’d better write to the boys.

Am back in D.

no letters!!!!!
in a week!!!!

naughty Jessie

 

Later edition.

Things have quietened down.  One still smashes the noise box, another silently struggles with a game of patience.

43

(This is all very rough I’m saving myself up for the grand effort I on at present here.)

After next week I start on the air force – then may be something on the navy.

Blarsted sandflies are like pneumatic suckers & the mosquitos like blarsted bombers.

More love

Bill

 

(am feeling plenty sunburnt right now!)

Bill.

 

Have lost cig. lighter twice.
Have found cig. lighter twice after lapse of two days.
No grilled steak here.
Tea like stewed treacle.
Out of the mouths of babes & sucklings we had large helpings of prunes today.
No more

44

Love again

Bill.

 

War Letters – NW Australia: 21 July 1943, Darwin; Bush races at a military camp down the road

C/O DPR Unit
Army Post Office
Darwin
Wednesday night
[21 Jul 1943]

Dear Jesso,

I haven’t been staying at the palatial residence of press fraternity for 3 days. At present situated at a spot about as far as Camden.  The weather still holds its perfection although away from the coast the nights are considerably cooler.  Poor Willie having brought only 1 blanket inevitably wakes during early morning & spends the remainder of the night between a spit and a shiver.

First day out I stayed at a big shot camp & dined in the big shots’ mess.  The food was very good – much better cooked than at above – this is to be expected I guess.  Cook would have to be on his toes (i.e. as far as is possible when cooking under the conditions here).  There’s plenty of good grub but it is all hash house cooked except the potatoes which are invariably damned good.  Tomatoes too are available, as most of the camps irrigate the plants with the waste from showers.  Saw two cabbages grown here, one was 20 lbs & the other 23 lbs in weight. – some cabbage!  Telegraph correspondent Bill Moore is a keen tomatoeer – more power to his soul!  Moreover we had asparagus sandwiches for supper!  That may be nothing in your sweet mouth – it wasn’t much in mine either, I was too darn polite to hog ‘em.  Raisin puddin’ is another standing dish up here.  My bowels & appetite can’t cope with the supply of edibles as yet.

After spending two nights at the abovementioned camp (sh-h-h!) I was transported hither – Here all is livelier.  The restraint subconsciously imposed on everyone by the presence of a plus senior officer is gone – Another fundamental difference is that this is one of the few NSW crowds about locally.  They seem much more companionable.  All the officers in this mess are motor men the majority from Sydney.  The C.O.’s face is familiar.  I think we may have seen him at the Auto Club.  Another officer said he had seen one there.  Asked if I knew Ron Gill.  Said Ron had a very bad attack of malaria & has been in & out of hospital for some eight months.

No change given here
No change given here, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 15 Jan 1944, cover
No change given here
No change given here

Am making sketches of the local race track recently cut out of the bush by the army forces.  By Christ it’s a surprisingly good little course.  A creek covered with water lilies flows round the edge of the paddock & official stand.  A pleasant spot covered with pandana palms is set aside for the horses, jockeys & form gazers.  The nags are brought in form the neighbouring stations and auctioned to whoever wishes to buy. The proceeds from the sales are put into prize money.  At the last meeting stakes were £1,500!

The official box
The official box

There is a big tote – 3 stands for the hoi polloi – the flat contains a football field.  The course is half a mile.  A commentator’s stand is behind the winning post.  Judges’ box and result board just like Randwick.  It’s bloody staggering.  I believe the sight of the north, is the numbers of two up games being played on the flat.  About 50 schools at one time.  And the thousands of bottles of LOLLY WATER emptied down the parched army throats.  It is reputed to be impossible to step between them.

28

This afternoon I emerged as a both a public entertainer & benefactor.  I appeared as the only live artist left in the territory.  I sat & worked before the bewildered gaze of at least 40 taken in relays of about 5 at a time.  Strangely enough I have found that when these things become unavoidable I could settle down a bit.  Not much though. Obviously I will get accustomed to it.

There is a magnificent canteen run by the publican of that new pub set back from the footpath on Botany Rd at Mascot.  Pub on the right on the way out to Brighton.  Dozens of tins of asparagus – plenty cigs, tobacco, Minties, Chocolate and god knows what.

Saw another picture the other night.  Accepted troop behaviour is after standing to God Save the King (with picture of George VI) and Star Spangled Banner (pictures of McArthur & Roosevelt) the troops in a body scream out – “What about Joe?”  “Give us Joe” Whee – i.e!  “In which we Serve” is to be shown here next week – So you may as well see it at home.  A sketch for you, my darling see below – and attached thereto.

All the messes in the bush are built bush carpentry fashion – walls consisting of bark slabs – or more elegantly of the slender & decorative poles of the palms which grow in profusion around here.

This sort of

Trunks about 3” diam.

Or else bark thatched roofs with bamboo strip wall lining – looks very well.  The country is much the same as down south.  Tropics are suggested by the brilliant green & luscious leaves of some of the gums & these are all small & at times with the sun light streaming through take on the appearance a an apple orchard is climes more mellow.  Hawks in their hundreds look like black paper litter blown about in the wind.  Their incessant curling & dipping is reminiscent of what I should imagine a plane battle to be.  When far away they can be mistaken for the spits.  That is, to my poor old enfeebled vision.

The talk of women is incessant.  It’s quite easy to understand.  When I stop working I miss you in large bundles.  Fellows after 12 months of this become quite obsessed.  Lots of love my dear – am looking forward to seeing you – I haven’t settled down yet – am still restless – in too much of a hurry to get something done – I know that with a little more resignation & detachment I could do  quite well – hope to Christ it soon arrives.

How’s Pop?  Haven’t had a letter yet but expect to get one on my return to D.  I keep wanting to go back – hearing from you will be bloody good.  Good luck, honey.  Give me some nice thinks.

Love

Bill

[Holding yards, Darwin race course]
Holding yards, Darwin race course
Racecourse Grandstand
Racecourse Grandstand
Racecourse Grandstand
Racecourse Grandstand
Judge's box
Judge’s box
Bike Race
Bike Race
No change given here
No change given here

24 x 18 cm Watching 880 Yards Race

War Letters – NW Australia: 18 July 1943, Darwin; Swimming, painting and a Japanese plane shot down

Sunday
[18 Jul 1943]

Dear Jess,

A short note cos little Willie is a weeny bit tired – the boys & all their soldier helps had a picnic today out on one of the beaches about 12 miles from here.  Altogether about 13 of us went & bathed in the Timor Sea (which was regularly calm) without any clothes on!  This is neither here nor there as from the main streets here you can see soldiers having showers in unenclosed shower stands.  They just put up a spray on the end of a water pipe, place a piece of Hessian on one side & go ahead.  All the fellows in this town – or in the whole territory – for that matter are a marvellous colour.  A rich brick red.  Few are that yellow brown colour as most wear nothing but shorts & boots & socks during the day.  As the sun is very hot they are continually being burnt.  I am at present a nice shade of lolly pink.  While I mention that, I may as well tell you that apart from a bottle of beer a week the troops can buy an un-carbonated cordial. They call it lolly-water & that’s just what it damned well is.  The abos are still cycling around. They look like a cavalry spider corps.

So     –> 

Clr neg 5 - Air Force Pool, Darwin
Air Force pool, Darwin

On the way back from the beach we bathed in a fresh water pool constructed on the head reaches of a creek.  It is a very lovely spot surrounded by pandana palms through which the sun filters & makes splendid patterns.  The pool is deep & about 20 yds long – The water much colder than that of the sea which is almost tepid.  The weather is really marvellous  – you would love it darling it’s right up your alley.  A couple of Jap planes arrived over today about 40 miles away.  One was shot down – I didn’t see or hear anything of them.

[Crashed Japanese bomber, NW Australia]
[Crashed Japanese bomber, NW Australia]
Tomorrow I’m going down the road to stay at some of the camps for a while.  Next letter you receive from me will be written in a different setting and may be just a little late.

Locally the train to Adelaide is facetiously known as the “Spirit of Protest”.  Have been drawing some of the lads tonight – they were well received.

On our return from the picnic we sat down to dinner prepared by one of the drivers (2 cars & 1 truck are attached to the unit here).  Cookie had gone with us for a day off.  Taking advantage of his solitude in the kitchen driver set to & sent up a voluminous 4 course meal.  Soup – macaroni & cheese & tomato – roast beef, etc peaches & cream & some sort of cocoa jelly.  Topped off with welsh rarebit.  I had thought him a bit simple.  He must have been to sweat it like that.  Maybe he has my occasional enthusiasm. It’s easy to get that way when does have to do it often.

I find it hard to settle down to a letter – too many typewriters banging – too much talk.  Perhaps I shall do better down the road.  I think I shall also ask the major who works in the house next door for the use of one of his empty rooms – Christ I need it in order to get away from this noise if & when I work.

All my love petty & please look after yourself. I miss you

Bill.

[Crashed Japanese bomber, NW Australia] [Crashed Japanese bomber, NW Australia] [Site of crashed Japanese bomber, NW Australia] [Site of crashed Japanese bomber, NW Australia] [Site of crashed Japanese bomber, NW Australia]

 

War Letters – NW Australia: 17 July 1943, Darwin; Visiting camps down the road

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O DPR
Army Post Office
Darwin
Saturday

Dear Jess,

How’s things with my little wifie?  I hope things are still alright with the old man and that mum is keeping well.  Went down the road again yesterday & met all the blokes that matter.  At one camp where we were eating with the majors & colonels I was more than surprised to see Major Bill Stanner walk in.  He had just a half hour before turned his car over & was still in a bit of a daze.  His knowledge of the area is apparently being put to good use by the army.  At another place we had the rare pleasure of drinking a very fine Scotch whiskey called “Mountain Cream” watered down with genuine French Vichy water such as I haven’t seen for years.  Our major in this mess & I imbibed somewhat heartily I’m afraid.  The colonel who treated us was a hell of a nice chap & most interested in art.  He was a wealthy business man and spends quite a lot of cash collecting pictures.  All the better known English artists’ work is represented in his collection.  After leaving that camp we went on further & had tea with another unit.  The Major there got us stuck into the port.  Our Major & I were goodo by the time we left.  It’s a rare blessing to have a driver.  We went to sleep and left him to it.  Took about 2 ½ hours to get back.  I’m not too hot today my love.

On Monday I will be off to live in a camp for a few days.  It is practically impossible to do any painting from here as a base.  All the boys are diligently writing their wives.  No work today.  I’m finding it hard to think.  Typewriters are clacking all over the bloody house.  Haven’t seen any ‘orrid crocodiles yet although they say there are some about.  Boy!  Little Willie is sure going to see he comes home with the same gruff voice!  No choir boy tones for me.  Not that it would matter much up here – life is extremely celibate.  Everything is still quiet on the front – thank God.  The boys reckon this is the toughest front line in the world.  We intrepid correspondents are pigging it with ice boxes and wireless sets, grog & plenty tobacco.  Next door is a Presbyterian mission house.  An adult aborigine & child are staying there at the moment.  The man rides round on a kid’s tricycle all day long & at night lights a fire (of all things!).  The two of them sit round it & give off.  Raucous native chants shatter the air.  I think the nig. is initiating the nipper into the tribal rites.  Terrible primitive up on this front.

Am looking forward to hearing from you darling.  Don’t suppose I’ll get anything for some time yet as even air mail takes a damned long time to come through.

Lots of love, honey

From poor Fred.

 

War Letters – NW Australia: 14 July 1943, Darwin; First impressions of life amongst the press corps

W.E. Pidgeon

DPR Unit

Army Post Office

Darwin

Wednesday night

Dear Jess,

Arrived here after a very long & rather exhausting trip which seemed to last for days.  Most of it was spent sprawled precariously over piles of sharp edged boxes and bloody hard crates of gear for some of the posts.  We left early Monday morning long before the roosters started their daily work.  I am somewhat vague as to the cans and cannots of communications.  All mail is censored.

Although I had no idea of what to expect in the way of habitation and country around here – none of it is even remotely like my nebulous preconceived notions.  Trees are laid on with lavish profusion & colour.  The climate is really balmy.  Typical summer days with mild & temperate nights which are really perfection at the moment.  Booful big moon plenty of stars & gentle Dotty Lamour breezes.  Everybody says it’s just perfect weather for the little yellow men to make a raid.  I’ve got my tin hat ready & the receptive trench eyed off.  Surprisingly enough there does not seem to have been much damage done – that is from what is visible now.  They do say as ‘ow they ‘ave cleaned it all up like.  Noticed a few big holes you could put half a house in but no one seems to have bothered to do so.  All so much useless spade work on the part of the nips.  Ninety-nine & then some percent of the houses (of which there are quite a lot) are made of fibro.  These are now nicely aired – cellstexed with irregular holes of varying shapes and sizes.

War Correspondents' Mess, Darwin; July 1943
War Correspondents’ Mess, Darwin; July 1943
War Correspondents' Mess, Darwin; July 1943
War Correspondents’ Mess, Darwin; July 1943

I was sure staggered to see my present living quarters.  A tin hut or hessian hut with rude bush carpentered beds and furniture was my dream.  Imagine my dismay in having to pig it in a two storied airy fibro cottage of very recent vintage and extremely pleasant design.  A large right angled room twice as big as our lounge occupies the centre of the building & from off lead a kitchenette, a tiled bathroom with shower recess & W.C. & 5 bedrooms.  It is all extremely airy – half of the walls are built on a pattern of venetian blinds – you may open or close them as is necessary.  About 11 of us sit down to meals – or to mess as is said.  The major of public relations sits at the head.  The good little boys are ranged down either side.  Food is pretty good – a new whole ham provided last night with tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber.  Sherry before dinner.  Australian whiskey on arrival & beer late last night.  It is hardly necessary to add that this grog was in moderate doses.  The ration is one bottle of beer a week.  I haven’t yet found out about the other alcohols.  Trotted off to an open air picture show last night – you take your own seat.    This is no trouble as 2 cars & 1 truck are at the disposal of the poor correspondents.  A team of American entertainers provided the first half of the show – they were really excellent.  Hard lines for the local lads that they were all men.  It is reported that down south 8 glamour girls were on the show too but higher ups decided such a show of limbs & breast might set in a rot among the troops, most of whom haven’t seen a dame for at least 6 months.  Comments when women appear on the screen are a trifle ribald.  I suppose real tarts would render them speechless.  It’s a rare sight to see the dags yelling out for Myrna Loy to hurry up & die (in the picture “The Rains Came”).  The distances between the various camps in this area are staggering.  I’ve been all day in a blasted car & seen about a dozen.  Christ only knows how I’m going to get around to the time needed to paint If I have to spend most of the day riding to & from the bloody joints.  I haven’t started yet.  It’ll take me a week to find the lay of the land.  It’s plenty hot.  Address your reply to W.E. Pidgeon – if you add a Mr. It will cost you 1 ½ d extra.  Airmail comes to me otherwise for 4d. Let me hear from you soon – am beginning to miss you – There’s no privacy & I don’t care much for a couple of these blokes.  Lots of love to you my sweetie-pie.

Heh-heh – love from

Bill.

War Letters – Brisbane, Sunday (11 July 1943), socialising

Oxford House

Brisbane

Sunday 8.30 am

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.

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 – Brisbane, Saturday (10 July 1943), Awaiting malaria test whilst waiting to fly to Darwin

“Everybody gapes at my green armbands”

Brisbane

Sat.

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!

STOP PRESS

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

Willie

War Letters Back Home – from Northern Australia, Papua New Guinea, Morotai and Borneo

During WW2, William Edwin Pidgeon (Wep) was a War Correspondent for The Australian Women’s Weekly. Between 1943 and 1945, Bill was attached to the Australian troops in Northern Australia, Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Morotai where he was situated when hostilities ceased in August 1945. In his work he recorded the daily lives of the men, women and natives around the camps, field hospitals, race meetings, church parades and some famous battle scenes. As a participant in their lives he drew and painted his subjects with a marked sense of involvement and an unmistakably Australian feeling of casualness. There is no straining after effect in his compositions, which are almost always of groups of figures in their appropriate settings. Their style is quite opposite to the style of the official war artist’s portrayal of troops in heroic action. The paintings are usually small in size, with a limited colour palette and restricted by what material was available on the run.

The following is a collection of letters to his wife, Jess, during these trips; letters composed in similar vein to his painting, yet full of visual verbal description describing life amongst the troops complete with illustrations scattered throughout.