There are us – no signs of my departure. I’m just sitting in the sun in a state of vaporisation (?). Yesterday I rewrote because of the Peace, the introduction to a story from the “Women’s Weekly” and did another black and white sketch to go with it. They should be at the office on Monday morning but I don’t (know) whether that is time enough to get it in the edition in which it will not be too cold.
Apparently Sydney made fair sort of whoopee during the past week. I hope you kept an even balance and haven’t dropped young Graham on his head or anything. God knows if I’ll be home before our Anniversary. I hope so. But the transport position is really frightening.
On the way from Labuan to Morotai we stayed overnight at Zamboanga, third largest town in the Phillipines. It is situated on the extreme southern tip of the most southern of the islands. A good deal of it was knocked about but it was still the most interesting place we have struck. Cliff Eager, Capt. Flett (an official war artist from Melbourne) and I walked into the town from the airstrip and gave it a good smelling over. What a stinking, dirty, filthy lot most of the Phillipinos are! The women dress in ill fitting and bedraggled European clothes and they are fat and slothenly. Not a patch on the Malays or the Chinese for carriage and looks. They seem to be a pretty degenerate lot – in Zamboanga at least. The waterfront looks much as it does in photos of other eastern ports. Hundreds of watercraft with little roofs built over the vessel and with outriggers on both sides like
A concrete promenade with steps into the water is absolutely littered with refuse the stench of which is abominable. Fruit skins, dead fish, sweat, every ruddy thing. The native village on stilts in mid stream would make you sick!
The cost of living is terrific! Only 2 Pesos to the American dollar – which makes one Peso worth 3/1 Australian. The three of us had a cup of tea and one ordinary chicken sandwich in the cleanest looking shop in town. This set us back only 5 Pesos 40 cents = 16/-!
Anyway, we dawdled around a bit more & decided to have tea at the same place. We had a really good chinese feed for the modest figure of 11 Pesos 50 cents. Thank heavens we didn’t stay there long. Arrived in Morotai on Tuesday 12 noon. I don’t feel much like writing. I’d rather be getting back to see you & tell you all about everything and to see how the little man is doing. I wonder if he’ll remember me. I suppose not. Lots of love darling – please look after yourself.
P.S. I got your second letter at Labuan just before I left. Have had none since.
[This would appear to have been Bill’s last letter home to Jess. His exact return date is as yet unknown but it is anticipated he did make it home in time for his and Jess’s 12th wedding anniversary on August 24th, 1945.]
I have vowed to let my mo grow till I get home – damn it!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
[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
I wrote a poem of sorts while spine bashing at Kuala Belait.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[Letter included caricatures of fellow correspondents Cliff Eager, Alan Dawes, Jimmy Smyth & Noel Adams.]