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

War Letters – Borneo: 22 July 1945, Labuan; Wet & cold, hot & dry, Victoria Town in ruins

W. E. Pidgeon
War Correspondent
c/o Public Relations
1 Aust Corps
Sunday July 24 1945 [22 Jul 1945]

Darling,

It is inconceivably wet and almost cold.  Everyone in the camp is on their spines, out of the wet, & either reading, or gazing gloomingly at the fog of rain that surrounds the tents.  It has been raining, & raining plenty for the last 2 1/2 hours.  It is said that all roads will be closed for the time being as the trucks & God-knows-what vehicles are simply churning them into a sea of mud.  Where, yesterday, I was choked & coated with the talc like dust is today a slippery & sloppy morass attended by the suckings and ploppings of boots stepping & out of the mess & the slithering hiss of tyres.  Damn me if it hasn’t got worse.  Our tent is flooded & the earthen floor lies beneath an inch of swirling water.  I got a spade & Eager is trying to dig himself out a bypass channel.  His stretcher is likely to float off any minute.  A few tents up Dawes & Smythe sit with their feet on their stretchers & peer helplessly at the 3 inches of water & slush beneath them.  Noel Adams in our tent takes it all rather philosophically – he can afford to – his bed is perched on the only dry piece of  ground in the whole bloody camp.

It is too dull, and uncomfortable to write any more at the moment.  The weather stinks and I am as wet as a WC from the hips down.  Borneo for rain!

[23 Jul 1945]

Monday.  Just prior to afternoon tea time.  Today is dry and hot.  The correspondents’ spines are still taking a terrible bashing.  As far as they are concerned this campaign is over and they are merely waiting to be taken home.

That fellow Newman, Ivan gave me the note to, is on the island but I have not been able to get sufficient means of transport to contact him.  I did meet one of the 2nd  Seventh who told me, Newman, was here.  The fellow that I met was Radcliffe and well remembers that dag “Joe” Gaskin.  Also came across Capt. George La Monte – I think you introduced him to me in the early days – he inquired kindly after you and if I recollect alright, the young man.  Lt. Arthur Horner, the tall fair artist johnny we had out to tea one night is attached to military history section just down the road.

Victoria, Labuan Island
Victoria, Labuan Island
Clock Tower at Victoria, Labuan
Clock Tower at Victoria, Labuan

There’s nothing much to tell you about this island Labuan.  It is quite small and is more or less a base area with an air strip.  The Japs have been cleared out and there is no excitement apart from the tracking down of mosquitoes and myriads of other winged beasties.  I imagine that Victoria Town once the hub of social life, was a picturesque spot in pre war days.  Only a couple of brick homes and an old clock tower remain after the invasion bombardment and the demolition by the air force gangs.  The native population consists mostly of Chinese farmers.  Malayans and Indians, all quite small in stature.  The women are slim and on the whole not unattractive whilst occasionally a real beauty will appear for a passing moment.  Their build is slim and graceful, their bones delicate and well turned.  They dress mostly in a buttoned up to the neck tunic and three quarter length pants – their black hair is always well groomed in plaits and other what you – do – it like styles.  Usually the colours are white, pinks, bright blues, and black.  All beautifully laundered.  Sometimes you see them wearing a vivid puce headgear with a bright green upper garment and getting away with it.  The babies are either slung across their backs or carried in exactly the same ways as the cuddler seat manner.

Two bottles of beer and a bottle of gin ration is on today.

Am leaving in the morning for Brunei and down the coast to the oilfields where I should get more stuff than this place offers.  We shall see.  How’s my little fellow?  Has he missed me at all yet?  How are you?  Not unduly put out about my absence I hope.  Does he try to walk yet?  Behaving your ‘self?  How’s Mum? And a lot of other questions.  Lots of love dear and tell Graham I often think of what he may be up to.

Love

Bill

Have had some of my money changed into Straits Settlements money which is the legal currency up here.  Am sending you 1 dollar, about 2/11.

[Signature of censor at bottom of letter]

War Correspondent relaxing in camp at Labuan
War Correspondent Cliff Eager relaxing in camp at Labuan
War Correspondents Jimmy Smyth (left) and Alan Dawes (right)
War Correspondents Jimmy Smyth (left) and Alan Dawes (right)
War Correspondent W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) relaxing in camp at Labuan
War Correspondent W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) relaxing in camp at Labuan
War Correspondents Jimmy Smyth on left, Cliff Eager on right in
War Correspondents Jimmy Smyth on left, Cliff Eager on right in
Clock Tower of the local Town Hall, Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Clock Tower of the local Town Hall, Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Clock Tower of the local Town Hall, Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Clock Tower of the local Town Hall, Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Clock Tower of the local Town Hall, Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Clock Tower of the local Town Hall, Victoria Town, Labuan Island

 

Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Victoria Town, Labuan Island
Victoria Town, Labuan Island
The Clock Tower in the distance and the only two buildings that remained in the former pretty town of Victoria Town, Labuan Island
The Clock Tower in the distance and the only two buildings that remained in the former pretty town of Victoria Town, Labuan Island

24 x 18 cm 21 x 11 cm

War Letters – Borneo: 19 July 1945, Labuan; Morotai to Labuan via transport plane

Write to
W.E. Pidgeon
War Correspondent
Public Relations
1st Aust Corps
Thursday 10.15 am
[19 Jul 1945]

 

Am bored to tears  – am uncomfortably curled up (one cannot stay reclined) on a pile of mail bags – and am hanging about 8000 ft above an awful lot of ocean about half way between Morotai and Borneo.  We left the island at 7 am this morning and will not land at Brunei until somewhere near (censored) – It’s a helluva long way to fly.  All around is a vast hazy world of blue – the horizon is indistinguishable but you guess it is out where the blues change tone.  Above us long fingers of cloud point their stationery directions while below white balls like anti aircraft shell explosions spot the sea.  It is cold too and I sit dismally wrapped round in a blanket.  There are nine of us sprawled about half of them are either asleep or near it.  I’ve been pushed off to Brunei first because accommodation at Balik Papan is limited – There will be no need for you to worry about me copping anything as I understand that we have gained all objectives and are now content just to hold them.  Could go a cuppa or a feed right now with certain relish. I don’t know why they always like to get you up at 4.30 am to catch planes that never leave (censored) or 7.  It means a lousy nights sleep and a stupid wakening – no tea and no grub till we land.  Is that good or bad?

The cigarette position is grim.  They are rationed and the issue is 2 ozs tobacco and 30 or 40 cigs per week.  I did manage to come by one carton of yank fags but these boys have woken up to their exploitation by the Australians – so they now charge 5 guilders a carton i.e. 16/8 Australian.

Morotai: mobile printing press for publishing the Army newspaper Table Tops
Morotai: mobile printing press for publishing the Army newspaper Table Tops

Mobile printing press at Morotai used for printing "Table Tops", Mobile printing press at Morotai used for printing "Table Tops",

Night before last I had been trying to do a bit of work about the mobile printing press the Army newspaper is produced on.  Unfortunately I decided on my return to the camp at 11 pm to call into the Public Relations tent & was inveighed into a game of poker – at 3.10 am I was only just awake & down 8 or 9  guilders when to my great good fortune an air raid alert was sounded & the lights had to go out.  The game was abandoned & I trotted off to a much needed bed.  The alert was a phony but it helped save poor Will from greater disasters.  Enough of this for the moment – I need to rest.

Arrived safely at Labuan.  Am with Cliff Eager, Alan Dawes, Jimmy Smyth & Noel Adams.  Mail is leaving now will write tonight.

Lots of love to you and bub.

Bill

Morotai, The Australian Women's Weekly, 3 Nov 1945, p11
Morotai, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 3 Nov 1945, p11

[Letter included caricatures of fellow correspondents Cliff Eager, Alan Dawes, Jimmy Smyth & Noel Adams.]

4 Borneo and Morotai Letters-214 Borneo and Morotai Letters-22 4 Borneo and Morotai Letters-23 4 Borneo and Morotai Letters-24

Early morning transport plane
Early morning transport plane
Interior of a Douglas C47 transport plane
Interior of a Douglas C47 transport plane
Wep sitting amongst the mail bags on a Douglas C47 transport pla
Wep sitting amongst the mail bags on a Douglas C47 transport plane