War Letters – Borneo: 16 Aug 1945, Morotai; Draft copy for Women’s Weekly story

The follwing copy, written whilst in Morotai was the basis for a story published in The Australian Women’s Weekly: 1945 ‘Soldiers in North talk and dream of home.’, The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 8 September, p.17, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47246573

Wep's War Correspondent badges and sketch book

Morotai, Thursday 16th August [1945]

It was pretty certain on Friday the 10th of August that the war was over. But the wild exuberant lead that flew around to celebrate the peace was just as vicious as that of war. Ironically, peace too, brought its casualties. The spontaneous rattle of machine guns and rifles was answered by the bopping of the Bofors and the slicing of the searchlight batons beating time across the sky. But the tension was gone and there was singing and drinking and yelpings of joy. And there was sentimentality galore. Three days it lasted. By Monday the boys had steamed right off and official peace was accorded no more than just a passing nod. In the night a few tracer shells moved in slow red perforations across the night and no one cared. It was more important and more depressing to contemplate the months yet to be served before demobilisation became for each a real returning to the ways of peace. Things were normal then on Monday. The hangovers were lifting and the cooks just cooked while batmen batted. In the evening at the pictures I attended, the troops stoically accepted the acrobatic antics of warrior Errol Flynn. The ceremonial tracers and searchlights moved on. The Australian Comforts Fund came good with a hamper for each and the thousands of plum-puddings are waiting on the spoon. Jube-jubes, peanuts, and peaches for the boys. A free bottle of beer has been promised.

But after all the shouting the life and background for most of the army personnel is still the same. The jungle is still green and thick and the Celebes Sea is just as ever.

Over there in Northwest Borneo the country is still smothered with gross fat trees in all shapes and sizes. You backyard fernery folk would still goggle at the orchids, creepers, staghorns, and palms – herringbone ferns and bracken like you have at home, but taller than a man!

Thanks to the zestful bombing of the RAAF and to the shelling by the navy, all the shopping centres of all the towns and villages have gone with the wind. One can only surmise what must have been the beauty of pre-bombardment Victoria Town on Labuan Island. The fragments of pale blue plastered walls, the heaps of bright red bricks and tiles, the remains of Chinese architectural devices, the broken retaining walls of the canal behind the shops, the gaunt and shattered trees, the only two surviving brick buildings, the isolated clock tower, an aloof and well-proportioned symbol of the town remain to testify to its one-time charm. What is left is just a ghost. The bricks and bones that were once its substance have been bulldozed off and used as filling on the airstrip. Victoria Town is buried there.

It is a tedious four and a half hours journey by landing craft to Brunei, your doldrums unrelieved by the sight of anything of interest and intensified by the down pouring blast of the Borneo sun. Heaven help Venice if Brunei is, as some allege, “The Venice of the East”. Only a real estate agent could have thought that one up for such a squalid grey collection of native houses. They squat weakly on their legs over the evil-smelling mudflats of the stream. Certainly there is a touch of carnival in the comings and goings of the children in their praus, and in their singing, – high pitched notes that float smoothly on the river and the ooze. Tatter clothed natives pick and scratch in the rubble of the town.

Surprisingly the road to Tutong bursts into twin concrete strips like tracks into a suburban villa garage. The interminable bowing and saluting of the natives is a hangover from the rigourous Japanese domination. Every thatched hut has more than its quota of sparkling little nippers, mostly nude, who wave and salute like their elders. From the more knowing you get thumbs-up and victory signs.

The road loses itself on the beach and the beach becomes the road. The China Sea swishes on the beach and the breeze is cool. A continuous line of casuarinas encroaches on the sand and reminds the boys of home.

Far ahead the smoke of the burning oil wells of Seria throws up the dull blue shape of an apparent mountain range. Closer, the sky darkens and the wind is quiet in the ominous gloom cast by the rolling smoke that dims the sun to the ignominy of a mothball hanging in the murk. Great jets of flame roar like Gargantuan blowlamps, the earth rumbles, and the trees are smothered in soot and oil. It is a black and white photo with fires in the middle. Australian army engineers are putting them out.

Personnel of the 20th Bgde. live a smooth existence at Kuala Belait. Here they share such terrors of war as laid-on gas and water, cricket and swimming on the beach, and offices, reading rooms, and a ping-pong in the homes and clubs of the pre-war oil executives. “A great war”, they used to say, but they’re pleased to see it over. The entrance to the erstwhile market is nice and handily flanked on one side by the local jail and on the other by a notice board bearing dire Army proclamations in English, Chinese and Malay. A few blackened beams and the fire-blued skeletons of a thousand bikes form this cemetery of a street. Malays and Chinese still shuffle up and down the road, or sit passively in the shade to watch the kids play and screech just as they do in Redfern or Fitzroy. In front of three tired shops – the only ones left – tiny silver fish are drying on sheets of corrugated iron in the sun.

From a house comes the brittle tinkling of an untuned piano; someone is playing with one or two fingers a Chinese song which strangely lapses into a few bars of “Way Down upon the Swanee River”. If you get to know little Peggy Ho and you ask her nicely, she will sing in her sweet little voice “I’ll always call you Sweetheart”. She is only 12 and very tiny and in some way her performance is very touching and it makes you think of all the children and of home. Peggy learnt that song and a few others while the Japs were here and when to speak English at all was indeed dangerous. Before they came she knew only her ABC and her family and friends have secretly taught her so much. What could the Japanese do with people like that?

You go to Limbang by barge through twisting aisles of water palms and mangroves. The silence is broken only by the roar of the engines and the monotony of the scene is varied by the appearance of an occasional prau which slides past and is left dancing on the wash behind. The paddlers in their conical straw hats disappear around the bend.

Limbang is the country of the Dyak. He is a real native of Borneo! You are conscious of a shock – your preconceived ideas of him were sadly naïve. Are these exquisitely feminine looking beings the bogeymen of your childhood days? It is unbelievable. Beautifully proportioned, sleek as a pear, you must admire their bodies. Here are Grecian marbles modelled in miniature and clothed in flesh of the lightest coffee hue and tattooed with the green scrolls and mystic patterns on the throat & shoulders. Their long hair is tied up with a strip of coloured cloth and the sun shines bluish on the fringe across the forehead and on the loopings of the spiral pointed bun. Throat bands, armlets, silver bangles just above the calf, and a loin cloth cunningly tied complete the peaceful ornamentation. But their swords and spears are razor sharp, their blowpipes silent and deadly. Many a Jap straggler’s head has been lopped and smoked for their mantelpieces at home. A useful ally to have even if he is not, patrolmen will say, so blooming hot in an open fight.

From Labuan another four and a half hours of sitting on a barge like a redhot waffle iron will bring you to the area occupied by the 24th Bgde. This is the land of the celebrated jeep train. Steam engines used to haul the train from Weston to Jesselton but on their hurried way out the Nips did their best to incapacitate the locomotives and the RAAF filled the boilers full of holes. So the engineers put iron tyres on the jeeps and shoved them on the rails and hooked the trucks behind.

The light narrow gauge line leads the train through disused paddy fields, through long and delightful tunnels of tropical green. The rubber trees meet in an arch overhead and the undergrowth, unhindered for the last three and a half years, forms walls of fern and palm and lasiandra whose purple flowers brush your body as you pass. For long stretches the track is carpeted with grass and only the polished rails indicate the way ahead. An intimate green pathway over which trucks clunkety-clunk and we lack only the great asthmatic puffing of the real thing. Natives stand aside for us to pass at intermittent clusters of houses, or at a real station, we disgorge bodies and rations to the babble of the Chinese and Malays.

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.

There is nothing more to say. In all the talk of Borneo it is only home, and how quick the five-year men can get there that matters. This is THE topic, whether with the boys on patrol, or with the wallahs at the base. Points scores and probabilities of departure times are studied and discussed like form guides, And it shouldn’t be long before many homes have their men back for good.

(Alternate paragraph on different paper)

Of all the talk in Borneo it was, and still is, only home and how quickly the men can get there that matters. This is THE topic, with both the boys up front and the wallahs at the base.

Naturally five-year men will be first and points scores and probabilities of departure times are studied and discussed like form guides. News of the POWs of the Eight Div. Is expected hourly and the long awaited reunion with them is imminent.

Yes. Very soon many homes will have their men return for good.

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

War Letters – Borneo: 24 July 1945, Brunei; Afternoon tea with the local villagers

Brunei
W.E. Pidgeon
C/o Public Relations
1 Aust Corps
Tuesday night
24 July

 

My dear Jess,

Am now on the mainland of Borneo and am camped at a spot by the river about 1/2 mile out of what is left of the village of Brunei.  I remember seeing an article on the leader page of  ‘The Herald’ in which this joint was described as the ‘Venice of the east’.  If Venice is anything like this God help it!  On the opposite side of the river there must be a couple of hundred native houses built over the water & supported by timbers much the same as the Papuan houses around Moresby.  There is an incessant coming & going of small boats – in & out from the houses, up and down the river – all over the bleeding place.  These houses look drearily squalid but the touch of tropic romance (sic) is supplied by a group of young kids paddling & singing a queer Malayan song which carries well across the water.  A slithering sound & a rasping of dry grass makes me jump & consider horrific images of pythons crushing Willie’s bones.  I escape this pulpy fate & sigh to see a lizard of the brightest cutest green imaginable and he eyes me obliquely & unmovingly.  After time I’ll take without a qualm the pinkest of elephants.  Maybe it was the gin I had last night.

I am escorted by an intrepid bodyguard from the Public Relations.  Apparently his job is to arrange transport for me and to fight off the Japs while I pursue the arts and further the successes of the “Women’s Weekly”.

It took us 4 1/2 hours to cross from Labuan.  After a large trip like this and a modest suggestion of a hangover I would willingly have given Borneo back to the wild men.

Had a bit of a snooze just before tea which is at 5.30 pm.  Incidentally the time the army is operating on is all haywire. I reckon it is about 1 1/2 hours ahead of what it should be.  This close to the equator one must expect normally sunrise about 6 am and sunset about 6 pm.  As it is sunup is nearer 7.30 am than anything and it gets dark at 8.  All this guff merely to tell you we have tea really at about 4 pm.

MP escort on a visit to the village at Brunei
MP escort on a visit to the village at Brunei
Wep with some local children, most likely in Brunei
Wep with some local children, most likely in Brunei

Went over the village (the part that is sensibly built on land) after tea.  Accompanied by an army cop who talked and explained all the doings like a cook’s tour spruiker.  Had two cups of tea in a native home – this palace was underneath the house proper and in the room which I would say was approx. 15′ x 15′ lives 4 couples & an uncountable number of children.  These natives sure know how to reproduce the young.  The provost fellow knew a few words of Malay and all was giggles & tea swilling.  The higher social level here is maintained by the Chinese of whom some are really good lookers.  Many of them are pretty wealthy and live in large & airy homes bounded by gracious tress, bamboos, & banana plants.  Basically it is an interesting enough place although now sadly in need of repair & paint since the Japanese occupation.  The natives here are hard bargainers and see to it that the army boys pay plenty for what they want in the way of souvenirs.  Saw some magnificent sarongs some of the lads had paid 50 dollars for.  50 dollars to you mug, is about £7.10.0.  Quite a whack!

There’s a bug of some sort creeping round here making noises just like dear old Joe Palooka’s “Tch, Tch”.

Some of the little native kids are delightful.  I’d like to buy one for little Graham.  They carry on with the same antics.

Little Wep; The Australian Women's Weekly, 21 Jul 1945
Little Wep; The Australian Women’s Weekly, 21 Jul 1945

Jimmy Smyth’s wife posted him the cover with our little man on it.  I look at it lovingly & it is now travelling Brunei State with me.  Is he looking after you all right?

I think I’ll push off to bed as I’m all wore out.  My salubrious couch consists of a hip hole in the earth – a ground sheet, a blanket, and a mosquito net.

Yours for better sleeping – loving Will.

Image11

8.30 am Wed.  The Brunei ground takes the fun for hardness.  It all added up to the longest night I think I’ve ever spent.  At last I have achieved a measure of benevolent dignity.  Graciously I acknowledge the salutes of the astute and discerning natives.  I walk along bowing & beaming like Queen Elizabeth.  The natives are nuts on gold teeth.  One soldier here told of a Malayan who had all his teeth covered & leaving a heart shaped window in the gold in the front – “Very pretty it was too”, says the boy.  I’ll bet?

 

Image12

Smart effect that

Lots of love darling to you & Graham

Bill

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