War Letters – New Guinea: 31 Jan 1944, Moved out to the upper Ramu Valley

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O Public Relations
N. G. Forces
Moresby
Mon 31st [Jan 1944]

Darling,

Am settled down in a permanent base at last.  Although I shall probably be in the mountains north of here most of the time I can at least have any letters you have written forwarded to me this area.

Yesterday I hitch-hiked out of Finschhafen, managing a jeep ride through prodigious jungle to an airstrip.  After coming out of the really dense but only moderately high jungle around the areas in which  I was these enormous tree were singularly impressive.  Some seemed at least 200 ft high the trunks barely discernible beneath the profusion of  parasitic vines orchids lichens and stag horns. The trunks thrusting like spears towards the light above – not much foliage in the dank darkness beneath the high green canopy.  It’s a damn sight more satisfactory to see the country by road than it is either by air or sea.  The details, the small and the undergrowth noise of birds and insects provide an intimacy quite lacking in those other forms of transport.

Lae looked no better to me on a second visit.  Everything seems dry and blasted as well it might be after the pounding it received.  Flying up the Ramu valley is everything Tommy [O’Dea] said it was – a hell of a lot more into the bargain.  Now that was a trip to be seen from a plane.  The most beautiful placer I’ve ever seen.  The brilliant green kumai grass along the flats edging the Ramu River makes its way up the treeless & knife edged foot hills to the bases of two colossal mountain ranges which enclosed the valley.  The clouds wind the depressions between peaks & plume off the highest points in great dramatic forms.  The unbelievable blues & greens below edge off into the sombre silhouettes of mountains like Mt Helwig which is 10,000 ft.  The fading light throughs the clouds into the starkness of black & white.  Small grey thatched native villages appear at irregular intervals and I leapt from window to window of the plane with the alacrity of a flea.

There were only 3 passengers in the plane (a big Douglas transport job loaded to the plimsoll with tins of dehydrated potatoes, soup, ration tins & what have you).    It seemed a long time getting off the ground – the tail did not appear to lift any too well.  My stomach anxiously awaited the disappearance of the strip beneath.  Next thing I know is that my guts are trying to get on the other side of my backbone – we had gone into a steep climb.  Next we are over the grassy foothills so low that the bloody stuff seemed to be whizzing past the windows.  Cripes I’ll bet the pilot cleared the ridges by only 4 feet.  Then the grass on the plains would appear suspiciously close.  I would think we were losing height because of the weight of cargo – then up and back the guts would go again.  If it hadn’t been for the scenery the trip would have been an anxious misery.

Found on landing that we had been brought up by a Yank known as the Mad Major.  He tosses these Douglas’s round like fighters.  He has been seen doing loops and slow rolls with them.  Too much bloody exuberance.  Strangely enough he was no chicken although a big wildly laughing guy.  I am told he was grounded for recklessness whilst with a Lightning fighter squadron. Ah me!

If you see Mrs Farrow or Farrar, the dame down the road, you can tell her that I have nearly met her brother.  I found the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion but he wasn’t in the particular company I came across.  I may meet him tomorrow.  This beautiful country belies its looks – it’s lousy with all the worst tropical plagues, itches – and worse things.

This is by far the best camp I have stayed in.   Good food – fairly cool – plenty of birds decent tents & native built huts – and amicable company.  The press advance headquarters are here and 2 P.R. officers to look after us.  4 or 5 correspondents are here at the moment.  So its just like living in the Journalists’ Club except that there is no tasty ale.

While I think of it, will you ring Syd King, police roundsman at the office & ask him how much my betting debt is.  Then post him a check.  Thankyou, my pet.

Nothing else at the moment.  Have not been able to get a letter from you yet but hope to receive some from Moresby when I come out of them there hills.  I have two days march in front of me after leaving the jeep track head.  Boy will I be weak.  May have a boong carrier to help me along.

Hope you are looking after yourself. Lots of love darling.

Bill

18

Native huts near a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Native huts near a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Native huts near a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Native huts near a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea

War Letters – Morotai: 21 Jan 1945, Hollandia; In transit at a US Air Force Camp

Hollandia
Sunday 21st Jan [1945]
6 am

Darling,

Just a short note asking you to do something for me.  I forgot about it when writing yesterday.  You will have found an illustration in the hall – will you ring Jack Santry and ask him if he would be good enough to take it in to Miss Mellion in the office?  I couldn’t manage it on my last trip in.

Interior, Transport Plane Evacuating Wounded
Interior, Transport Plane Evacuating Wounded
Awarded First Prize, Australia At War Exhibition, War
in the Air Section 1944-45
The plane is a Hudson bomber.

Also on the verandah is a painting of wounded in a plane interior – you know, the very green thing.  I think it is leaning against the cupboard out on the verandah.  Will you send me up the size in inches of the original – and also ask Jack Santry to take it into Ron Bennett whom I shall write respecting it?  How are you getting along without me to worry you?  I do hope you and the little man are doing well & eating all you should.  We are leaving early this morning for an island further along the coast.  Should get there about 3 hours after we leave.  This American camp is a huge place.  Thousands of Yanks swarm the hills.  They’ve even got between 100 & 200 service women with them.  I dare say that dame Staunton who came home is somewhere about.  French letters & prophylastic (sic) stations abound.

It is very quiet at the moment – no one up in the PR camp – no sound of birds in the jungle just beside the hill.  The silence is broken only by the roaring farting of the jeeps grinding up the hill on the right.  We eat at an officers mess about a mile & a half up the mountain which overlooks a magnificent lake curving round the foothills for miles upon miles.  It really is a beautiful spot.  That is more than you can say for the food.  Christ the Americans are sweet toothed eaters!  Expensive too – and little enough of it.  Jack Hickson gets around in a start of chronic hunger pain. 1/- for a breakfast of a sweet kind of egg bread soaked in syrup.  Coffee of course.  3/6 for lunch consisting of an indifferent vegetable ball covered with a thin sauce, slice of beetroot & frizzled dehydrated potatoes. No coffee but water with lemon, and flat cakes.  Dinner was a salad of pears & peaches with a near horse radish sauce – then tomatoe soup – roast beef & a slawish sort of cabbage & a substance which none could identify & none could eat – all topped off with a slopingly sweet chocolate pie.  Humm-mm!

War Correspondnet Jack Hickson taking shelter from the rain at H
War Correspondent Jack Hickson taking shelter from the rain at Hollandia airfield.
US Army Douglas C47 transport planes at what is believed to be H
US Army Douglas C47 transport planes at what is believed to be Hollandia airfield. The plane in foreground has serial number 100726.
21 x 11 cm
US Army Douglas C47 transport plane

It has just started to rain but I don’t think it will amount to much – the mountain this foothill is part of runs to 5800 ft & has been shrouded by clouds ever since our arrival so I guess one can expect a certain dampness to be our lot..

The boys are alright but I’d still prefer to be alone I think.  However we shall see what we shall see.  Haven’t done any work yet as we haven’t contacted RAAF stations.  Will be staying with one today.  Somewhere in the Schoeten Islands just off NG.

After being very short on cigarettes all yesterday & being unable to buy any off the yanks we managed to get a dozen cartons off an Australian canteen.  Whacko!  12 Guilders for the dozen! 1 Guilder is 3/4 to you mug – of course we intrepid newsmen are in Dutch Territory & now shiny guilders about where pounds fluttered before.

Lots of love sweetheart.  A big squiggle & tickle for little wep & regards to mum.

I’ll be seeing you.

Dear Willie.

1 Guilder note sent by Wep to Jess in his letter of 21 Jan 1945

1 Guilder note sent by Wep to Jess in his letter of 21 Jan 1945

That’s a guilder, little woman!

War Letters – Morotai: 20 Jan 1945, Hollandia; met cousin Ilma’s husband

Hollandia
Saturday 20th Jan 44 [45]
7.20 am

Darling,

Am writing this whilst sitting safely & placidly on a comfortable bed in a comfortable camp.  As you observe I have at last got this pen into some semblance of working order. I hope it stays like this.  Jack Hickson is still asleep – he’s been asleep ever since we left Sydney.

War Correspondent, photographer Jack Hickson, asleep on the tran
War Correspondent, photographer Jack Hickson, asleep on the transport plane to New Guinea

We got here about 6.30 pm yesterday after a strenuous 11 hour trip from Townsville.  And what a trip! 5 hours over the bleeding ocean, through rain squalls & bumps and vague (at least to us) turnings.  Sometimes only a 100 ft or so over the sea & at others 8000.  A dirty trip which caused your old man a certain amount of mental distress.  Landed at Moresby drome where there was only one other plane on the field – that place is plenty dead these days.  Took ½ hour to climb high enough to cross the Owen Stanleys which were covered with enormous clouds.  We then turned up the Ramu Valley but were forced back by cloud before we got near Shaggy Ridge.  Climbed to about 15000 ft & passed over the bottom edge of the Bismarck Range & so to the Finschhafen coast to the accompaniment of more mental agitation.  Took us about 4 more hours flying time to get here which is just over the Dutch border.  Was I glad to land?  Was it good or bad?  No one wanted us as no one had heard of us.  After 1 ½ hours bum warming we managed a frugal meal at an air force camp & finally made our way up to the American Public Relations section of this huge US camp.  We slept here in some luxury.  Was introduced to the major in charge [Richard (Dick) Brewer] who asked me my Christian name.  His reaction to my weighty information was “I am married to Ilma” [Ilma Brewer nee Pidgeon, Wep’s first cousin].  So you see I am living with relatives namely my cousin-in-law.  He asked me how our chee-ild was.  And how is the little pet?  Does he miss dear old da?  Drop me a letter (one only) c/o RAAF Public Relations Morotai – but do it straightaway.  I’ll probably miss it anyway.  Breakfast is due in a few moments. I’ll try to write to greater length when we settle down some place.

Lots of love dear.  Look after yourself, Graham, and Mum.  Giver her my love.

Poppa

(alias Daddas

alias Weppie)

[Richard and Ilma Brewer went back to the US after the war but returned to Australia a few years later to settle permanently. Dick became the General manager for Parker Pens Australia and Ilma earned a PhD and became a Lecturer in Botany at the University of Sydney]

W.E. Pidgeon's (WEP) War Correspondent licence, No. 370, issued
W.E. Pidgeon’s (WEP) War Correspondent licence, No. 370, issued 13 Jan 1945 for his third trip to the south west Pacific war zone.
W.E. Pidgeon's (WEP) War Correspondent licence, No. 370, issued
W.E. Pidgeon’s (WEP) War Correspondent licence, No. 370, issued 13 Jan 1945 for his third trip to the south west Pacific war zone.

21 x 11 cm
American ambulance

War Letters – Borneo: 17 July 1945, Morotai; The trip from Townsville and other socialite gossip

W.E. Pidgeon

Morotai

Tuesday morning, 15th July 45 [17 Jul 1945]

 

Dear Jess,

You might be pleased to see that I have got this far without bother.  We landed here about 3 pm yesterday after flying since dawn.  Capt. Mark Miller & I had a few beers before lunch at the Townsville Officer’s Club on Saturday.  It was over these beers that I came to remark that I had met Rod through the instrumentality of Grace Bowers.  Talking along in a generalised way we came to mention Alsatians of which he has two.  I then remarked that during a period of requited love I had also bought a hound to help me & my bruised heart.  Said that I used to take said hound down to Bondi.  He said he remembered the green Chrysler the dog and the attractive girl.  Complement to you my treasure, for he didn’t know then that I later swept you off your feet.

We retired to the bedroom after lunch & he produced a bottle of Scotch & we proceeded to give it a gentle nudge.  Just sufficient for him to be opened up on the divorce case.  Apparently his wife did her block completely over Alexander & had no compunction about leaving her two young boys for his sake.  Miller says that Alexander was considerably cooler in his approach to her.  What I mean is that he had no intentions of anything but a good time.  Miller reckons that the costs were about £9,800 of which he seems to think that he will be let in for his wife’s share – about £4,000.  Miller seems an amiable enough fellow to me.  A big man – & rather like Frank Packer to look at.  Not intellectual but with plenty of intelligence towards the practical side of life.  He began as a private & is now a Capt. Has done 5 years in the army is extremely proud of his kids & was so of his wife.  His importance to us lies in the fact that he controls the British Brewery end of Miller’s interests.  We got along very well.

We left Townsville as you know on Sunday morning & spent the night at Merauke on the southern side of Dutch New Guinea.  As we arrived at dusk & left at dawn I can’t tell you what the place looked like.  Coming over the ranges in New Guinea the pilot had to take the plane to 20000 ft.  Boy was it cold!  Ice was flying off the propellers & in places you could scratch frost off the inside of the plane.  The oxygen apparatus wasn’t working for the interior of the plane.  It is amazing how short of breath you become.  You gasp like a blinking fish out of water.  Your knees sag if you stand.  I thought a 1/4 lb. block of chocolate would provide me with some energy but it only made me sick.  I felt lousy.  Picked up a bit on the way down to Biak where we refueled & took off on the 4 hours flight to this island.  The weather was stinking & we flew at 600 ft through squalls & rain nearly all the way.  There’ll be another hop like that to Tarakan in a day or so.  It is raining here and is pretty cool.  The cold weather has followed me all the way.  This camp is one of the best – or I should say the best I have been in.  Being a headquarters sought of do one might expect this to be so.  Banana palms all in between the tents, good food & 2 bottles of beer a week.  Not many cigarettes which are also rationed.  I wish I had brought my old boots these are taking time breaking in.  My feet feel rather like those of gouty diver.  My elegant apparel is, I am a sure a joy to behold.  As everybody here seems to have clothes of their own there is no occasion to into sharing my pants and my shirt.  Damn the rain too.  It makes much mud to stick to the corny foot!

 Image9

I’m sick of sitting around so I’ll take a walk – corns, snuffles, out of focus eye, rain and all!  Come what may!  It shall scatter the cobwebs which spread a dusty net across my thoughts.

In the course of my work the very obliging Captain who runs this here part of the doings took me over to the O.M. store where I trade my wretched Vic. Barracks sack cloths for a shirt which fits & a pair of beautiful eau-de-ville pants with herringbone pattern.  They are the same size but look considerably daintier & command much approval from my aesthetic eye.  The general effect is now rather sweet than otherwise.

Soon it will be time for me totter over for the morning cuppa.  Before breakfast the Batman arrives with hot coffee & hot water for the shave.  What’s this for roughing it.

I have taken up the profuse sweating where I left it off in January last.

Image10

Well, lots of love to you & that young man.  Will write in all probability again from here before I leave for Balik Papan.

Love,

Bill

 

This is supplementary news, or lack of it

Afternoon about 3 pm

Have had lunch out – with Major Cheong who runs the army newspaper and who is the chappie that drove me down from Atherton to Townsville.  The weather at the moment is really wonderful & it finds your old man seated before his tent, basking semi nude in the sun – & sweating merrily whilst a nice cool breeze from the sea just a hundred yards off makes gentle passes at his back.  Bananas to the left, bananas to the right, vines, ferns, paw paws & trees just behind the canvass – this is the real tropic life.  A bird squeaks intermittently and some sort of droning insect keeps forever on a high pitched drone.  What a life!  Have been down on the strip but none of the crowd I met in January remain on the island.  I dare say I shall contact them at Tarakan.  Heard all the latest on “Tige’s ” bag snatching husband.  Appears he was the menace of the north.  Brace and bitted his eyes into every bedroom within sight.  Acquired no end of valuable commodities and generally behaved like a very queer duck.  It seems that it is just as well that we never invited him home.  We may not have had much left by now.  Am waiting on afternoon tea.  I find it is on – farewell me while I eat.  The tea arrives.  This is a blessing as I am getting really too hot out in the sun.  Must have lost a pound at least today.  Am feeling better now than I have done for weeks so cheer up when considering my health.  Lots of love again & will write again soon, very soon.