War Letters – New Guinea: 1-2 Feb 1944, Guy’s Post & Shaggy Ridge

Australian Red Cross Society letterhead
W.E. Pidgeon
c/o P.R. Unit
N. G. Force
Moresby
Tues 1 Feb [1945]

Sweetheart,

Am writing from an Advanced Dressing Station i.e. a base where surgeons work closest to the front line.  Fortunately for the troops there is only one wounded casualty here at the moment, and from all information on the state of the war up here there are not likely to be any more.  The Jap is definitely on the way out.

Evacuating Wounded-Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Evacuating Wounded-Ramu Valley, New Guinea

I’m somewhat limp after an afternoon stroll (?) up a mountain 200 ft higher than the spot where I now sit.  All in all that damned ridge is about 4000 ft above sea level.  God knows how the soldiers carried their packs (and the boongs the supplies for them) up these exhausting peaks.  They must have been superhuman – it was all I could do to cart myself up.

The scenery round here is really magnificent.  There’s nothing like it in Australia.  Clouds encircling the mountains half way and passing fogs crown the peaks up to 4000 ft.  The hills are treeless except for dark writhing tangles which follow the eroded creek beds slashing down the sides.  Imagine the hills of Picton much more precipitous, higher & sharp edged on top – so sharp are some that only one man could cross the saddle at one time – as green or greener than those I painted.

After struggling to the top of this bloody mountain I came across some of the lads coming down.  We sat & had a cigarette – they said they were Pioneers.  I asked about Lloyd Martin and blow me down if he didn’t come round the track.  I introduced myself.  He was camped right on the top and all around were the most magnificent views.  We had a cuppa which seemed to help me along.  Then down the hill in practically a straight line & at a 45º angle.  God! Did my legs wobble at the bottom.  Unbelievable that I should really come across anyone in such a casual fashion in such a hell of an area as N. Guinea.  However, it happened.  He said that he had had a letter but two days before from his sister saying that I was on my way.  The family resemblance is unmistakeable.

Tomorrow I am on my way up an even higher mount to a Ridge that has been well in the news.  Heaven help me, even though I shall have a boong to carry my paint box.

15

That’s a picture to delight your heart. “Squire Pidgeon and Boong ascend the Hairy Mount.”  The password for tomorrow is “Excelsior”.  I’m definitely & most positively NOT looking forward to it.  But the show must go on – albeit over my wracked & blistered body.

By the way, I am not the least less on the nose!  The ground is wet with my honest sweat.

I think this hurricane lamp I’m using is about to give up the ghost any tick of the clock!

Will soon retire to my stretcher.  I’m sleeping under native built grass roof in the malarial ward.  I am not a patient.  It is merely that I have been offered the hospitality of the base.  The food here is the best that I have had in N.G.  The cook was a chef at Scott’s of Melbourne so I guess he knows how to put even tinned meat & vegetables together.  And have I had beans?  Am not really eating well – don’t seem to be able to muster up any enthusiasm for the same damned stuff.  Had alleged fresh meat the other day.  Tasted (which word is an euphemism for it) like well worn saddle leather.  I just couldn’t make the grade.

Have been taking my prophylactic daily dose of anti-malaria pills.  In time they dye the old bod a fine shade of tangerine with the exception of the finger nails which appear to become whiter.  Generally, a very smart effect, especially on persons of sallow complexion which acquires a rare old mahogany hue.  I am approaching a very delicate pale primrose on the hands.  Perhaps I’ll give you some real colour on my return.  The boys say it has the same effects on the old doings as quinine.  But what do I care – I aint goin’ no place.

I do hope you are really looking after yourself – eating, drinking moderately & keeping the old clods up on a chair or something, or anything that does for something.

Hope the family are still pottering along alright.

Regards to the Hunter Hillbillys [friends from Hunters Hill – King Watson and other drinking partners].  Even a schooner of Tooheys would cause a riot up here.  N.G. is absolutely dry.  I haven’t had a drink since Townsville.  The boys at Moresby took a dim view of my alcoholless arrival.

Lots of love darling, Bill

P.S. The tea guzzling up here is staggering – every few minutes someone is making tea – if you’re not in the camp drinking the fairly lousy stuff you’re drinking it at a Salvation Army or YMCA inn along the road somewhere.

More love XXX

 

Wed.  Feb 2 6.30 pm.

Knee operation at a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guine
Knee operation at an Advanced Dressing Station at Guy’s Post in the upper Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Knee operation at a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guine
Knee operation at an Advanced Dressing Station at Guy’s Post in the upper Ramu Valley, New Guinea

Jaysus! Do I feel sick!  Have just done a very rough and very wobbly sketch of a fellow having his knee opened up by two field surgeons.  Do they cut ‘em up!  I’ve seen all the operations I want to for many a day.  It was touch and go whether I would make a ninny of myself by throwing up on the spot!  The day was saved by my extra rapid scrawl and an attempted wise look indicating the completion of my sketch.  Phew!  I bet I dream about it.

All that on top of tea which made me belch like hell & a slight sickness of exhaustion.  I’ve been up and own the blasted mountains today my love.  Started at 8.30 am & didn’t return to the camp till nearly 5 pm.  Felt completely buggered and far from home.  My knees are like jelly – my heels are sore from the thumping I gave them on the way down the mount.  Banged all the nails through into my anything but calloused heels (incidentally it’s dammed cold at the moment – and raining too –a perfect setting for a first class whinge).

Shaggy Ridge, New Guinea
Shaggy Ridge, New Guinea
Ascending the Pimple; reproduced The Australian Women's Weekly,
Ascending the Pimple; reproduced The Australian Women’s Weekly, 10 June 1944, p40.

Well I have at least seen Shaggy Ridge and what a hell of a place it is. Heaven only knows how the boys took it over from the Jap.  On either side of a track only wide enough for one.  The earth face walls near sheer nearly 200 or 300 ft & the top of it was riddled with fox holes.  It is all beyond me I’ll have to get hold of one of the crowd that did  it to tell me all about it.

Don’t think I’ll write anything more tonight darling.  Am feeling too depressingly tired.  Keep a couple of gals for picking me up at Martin Place.  I aim to be home this month via Flying Boat.

Hope you are OK.

I might get a letter in a few days – hope so.
Lots of love –from
Plugga Pidge
the boy wit de wobbly knees.

13

I really think my mountaineering days are over.

Moderation is the keyword for today.

love XX

Bill

[Study for Evacuating wounded-Ramu Valley]
[Study for Evacuating wounded-Ramu Valley]
Study for Ascending the Pimple
Study for Ascending the Pimple
Squire Wep and faithful 'boongs' ascend Shaggy Ridge; reproduced
Squire Wep and faithful ‘boongs’ ascend Shaggy Ridge; reproduced The Australian Women’s Weekly, 18 March 1944, p9.
On Shaggy Ridge
On Shaggy Ridge, reproduced: The Australian Women’s Weekly, 10 Jun 1944, p40
Advanced Dressing Station, Guy's Post, New Guinea
Advanced Dressing Station, Guy’s Post, New Guinea
The Pimple and Shaggy Ridge, New Guinea
PASSED BY OPERATIONAL CENSOR SWPA
PHOTO NO. MNG. 456.
The razorback of the Pimple with Australian troops digging in. In the background is Shaggy Ridge from which the attack was made. This mountain spur which rises to a level of 5,600 ft. dominates the Ramu Valley.
PLEASE ACKNOWLEDGE DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION.
Admissions, Field Hopsital, Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Admissions at an Advanced Dressing Station at Guy’s Post in the upper Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Knee operation at a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guine
Knee operation at an Advanced Dressing Station at Guy’s Post in the upper Ramu Valley, New Guinea
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea
Jeep trailer
Jeep trailer
Possibly a Grant M3 tank
Possibly a Grant M3 tank
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea

24 x 18 cm 24 x 18 cm Kankiryo and Mount Prothero 21 x 11 cm 21 x 11 cm 24 x 18 cm

War Letters – New Guinea: 29 Jan 1944, Finschhafen; Field hospital

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O PR Unit
N. G. Force
Moresby
Sat 29th [Jan 1944]

Dear Jesso,

Have just returned to our Canvas Palace after an arty evening under the stars, vines, clouds and fire flies listening to highbrow music as dispensed by some amiable sergeant for the benefit of the boys.  It was very pleasant – cool too, for a change.  We’re not asleep I bent my wandering brain to appreciation of the note.

12

We returned with the help of fireflies to where Hodgkinson promptly lies down “dreaming my love of thee,” The bastard’s bats!

Am moving out tomorrow on my way to the upper end of Ramu Valley.  Should be able to get the best of possible stuff up there.  Seems a year since I left home – all recollections of the lawn mowing week are vague and almost remote. I’ve packed so much into my popping eyes in the last fortnight.  Roy will be staying on down here completing his magnus opus.  I shall probably meet [William (Bill)] Dargie up there.  Which reminds me I saw a par. in “Guinea Gold” (the soldiers’ paper) that there has been a wonderful stink about the Archibald Prize award.  Nothing like a lively bout between artists. [The 1944 prize was awarded to William Dobell with a portrait of Joshua Smith which was being challenged in court as not a portrait but a caricature. The award to Dobell was eventually upheld.]

Dental examination at a filed hospital in the Ramu Valley, New G
Dental examination at a Field Hospital near Scarlett Beach in the Finschhafen area, New Guinea

Went over to a field hospital today but didn’t get much out of it – most of those places are all the same.  Managed to make a note of the dental corner.  A picture of a soldier getting his teeth drilled may strike a sympathetic chord in the Weekly’s readers.  Undoubtedly the most momentous occasion of the day was the decent shower I had up there.  It was the first time I have had a proper wash since arriving in this area – Boy!  Was it good. – For ½ hour anyway.  After that I was as sweaty as ever.

I may be able to settle down to a better letter when I have this Tower of Babble.  In the other areas I shall probably be alone.

Will write you in a couple of days – all my love darling.

Not too much hops, mark you and feet up.  Regards to all More love from Willie

(written on side)

Enclosed petals look like hibiscus but are off a tree nothing like.  It was apricot colour when I picked it.  There’s a brilliant blue butterfly floating round dis ‘ere camp.

War Letters – NW Australia: 31 Jul 1943; Under dive bombing attack by a Mosquito squadron

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
APO DARWIN
Sat. night
[31 Jul 1943]

 

Darling,

You’re an awful nice kid to write me long letters.  I likes ‘em fine and appreciate in a big way your doing so well what with the quiet life you seem to be living.  Keep it up honey – it’s a great help to hear about the poor old civilians back home.  It’s great for the morale of our intrepid war correspondent.  That’s the kind of battling (with bores & loud speakers) which really shakes the soul.  To see you standing up to it gives me fresh heart and a sterner eye.  I think you are a darling.  Looks as though this short separation helps somehow.  Makes us think more about each other & how to be nicer in both large and tiny ways.  Wish you were here for me to give a big hug & kiss. (platonic like?)

The mosquito craft are zooming about in token formations, manoeuvring into position.  I’ve already received a few direct hits but retaliating have got 4 destroyed, 6 probable, and 32 near misses.  There is no thought of my evacuating – I shall carry on in glory, in honor, and in love.  It must in all fairness be reported that had the enemy be backed by squadrons of sand flies retreat would have been both rapid and inevitable.  I have never seen a sandfly.  They must have some sort of radio direction finding equipment especially tuned to my wave length.  They never miss.  The inverted craters scaring my beyootiful body bear ample witness to the efficiency of their aiming.  I am not in the hunt.

A constant drone of war reminiscences slithers round the corner of the mess but, thank God, no tap-tapping blasts the sub-tropic heaviness of the night.  In fact it appears highly probable that there will be no rude & hearty interruptions to my pleasant solitude.  It’s a hell of a problem to be alone in any sort of comfort.  And I could do with a spot of nice cold weather – Cripes – think of all that snow going to waste!

2 more of the enemy crashed screaming to their doom.  6 more near misses.  Am becoming quite an ace – what?

Have just applied methylated spirits to my sand fly bites.

Have also practically recovered from the correspondents’ occupational disease – motor car arse and/or crumpled coccyx.

George Finey wrote me too, the old villain, a very nice note telling me not to bust the poor old boiler.  Tomorrow I’ll settle down to a field day of letter writing.  Whilst you are shivering (and maybe drinking sherry) or even eating, ½ an hour’s mean time before me, I’ll be lolling near naked in the sunshine sopping up all sorts of light rays and vitamins.  Occasionally I shall put pen to paper.

Have been to a lousy picture tonight.  One could hope to escape the uncivilizing influence of Wallace Beery at this local show – but no.

Shall put up one more ack-ack barrage before I turn in.

24

Anopheles, where art thou?

 

Time Sunday morning

Scene In the backyard young old Wep is discovered lounging in lounge – He is bare to the waist & under bright sunshine is simmering nicely giving forth sweet fleshy odors more fragrant than myrrh and sandalwood.  Centre background is wire meshed kitchen. In right back is seen dimly as through a black blanc-mange a man and a bike.  This man is a solid straight forward type not the sort who would make lewd use of a bike.  In the foreground a grease trap & a pool covered with sludgy fat.  2 Dogs, Mim and D’ouevre sniff at pool and posteriors.  As the curtain rises wep is again discovered writing to his beloved wife – anon and anon he brushes fat green ants off his bronzed gladiatorial form.  A young lad, a press correspondents’ driver, enters scratching his poll.

WEP:                  G’day!

DRIVER:           G’day!

WEP:                  Have a good day yesterday?

DRIVER:           Upta f—ing putty!  The f—ing f—ers f—– round all f—ing day & f—-ing night.  And wadda the f—ing f—ers f—ing well get.  F— all!

(Driver exits back centre, scratching crutch & slavering at cook house).

(CURTAIN)

War Letters – NW Australia: 31 Jul 1943, Down the road; Formal mess at the field hospital

W.E.Pidgeon
C/O DPR
APO Darwin
Sat. morning
[31 Jul 1943]

 

Darling,

I wish you were here to smother me.  I’m not so damn hot this, for others, gay & cheerful morning.  Some wild men from the hospital fixed me up last night.  My dearest wish is that they suffer with me.

After being about the hospital grounds for three days I was invited to attend their formal mess.  On these occasions there is supposed to be a little ceremony attached to the business of eating.  In this case it was pretty free the only formality being the smart (but not from me) standing to attention & drinking the King’s health.  The port was passed – somehow or other – due either to the shortage of decanters or the shape of the table – the grog was passed the wrong way round.  Previous to going over the beer ration arrived & rather than pass it by I downed the bottle with great expediency (you wouldn’t know him).  Vic Bitter it were & booful cold.  Had a coupla gins before dinner, then the port & back to gin after the meal.  Managed to do myself up fairly nicely with 3 majors.  I repeat, I am not so hot.  Hangovers in hot weather are not recommended.

Am going back to the home town today.  It will be a hellova treat to get some clean clothes & a spot of spine-bashing.  (Why lying down on bed is called spine-bashing is beyond me.) Darling, I love you.  Our old friends from Admiralty House are due up here any tick of the clock.  I will not be calling on them.  May leave my card though.  I don’t seem to be getting through the work very rapidly.  Hope to start on the air force next week.  Miss you a lot.  Am working diligently when hangovers are not on deck.  It is bloody hot work standing at an easel during the day.  I should imagine I have lost quite a bit of weight what with the sweating & lousy sleeping.

Big wedding on at Darwin this afternoon.  One of the doctors going off with a sister.

Am looking forward to your letters.  Quite an event to return to Correspondents’ mess & receive my mail.  Forgive me, dear, not writing more at the moment.  I really am very faint.  The old blood pressure wouldn’t squash a fly. – Plenty of love to you darling from little Willie.

Love to Mum & Dad.  Hope they got my telegram on the right day.

War Letters – NW Australia: 29 Jul 1943; Down the road at a Field Hospital

C/O DPR Unit
A.P.O. Darwin
Thursday 7am
[29 Jul 1943]

 

Dear,

Too tired to write you last night as I’d had a strenuous day.  Started about 8.30am at the Field hospital – launched off 3 paintings.  The sun was blazing.  Sweat just rolled off me.  Knocked off about 5.  A heavy day.  Am getting quite used to over the shoulder lookers-on.  Shall be able to paint with even the Pearl, Carey, Lahm gang anywhere.

One of the Sisters came over & said “You’re not Wep are you?”  Said she thought she recognised my face.  Met me at Romanos.  Remember the night Arthur Mailey introduced us to a table full of Captains etc & nurses back from the Middle east.  He & I were drawing.

Sorry this letter is so short.  Breakfast is now ready & I’m off in a car at 8.15 back to the Hospital.

Lots & lots of love.

Bill.

Hospital Tent
Hospital Tent
Field Hospital. Northern Australia
Field Hospital. Northern Australia
AWW 1944 Jan-15 Army Hospital In North, The Australian Women's Weekly, 15 Jan 1944, p12
The Australian Women’s Weekly, 15 Jan 1944, p12
AWW 1944 Jan-15 Army Hospital in NT
The Australian Women’s Weekly, 15 Jan 1944, p12
Field Hospital
Field Hospital
Field Hospital
Field Hospital
24 x 18 cm
Field Hospital
Field Hospital
Field Hospital Tents
Hospital Tent, Field Hospital
Hospital Tent, Field Hospital
Field Hospital
Field Hospital

War Letters – NW Australia: 27 Jul 1943, down south; Visited a transit camp and a field hospital

C/O DPR Unit
Army Post Office
Darwin
Tuesday night
(I haven’t the foggiest idea of the date)
[27 Jul 1943]

 

Darling,

Didn’t have time to write you yesterday.  Arrived down south fairly late, about 3.30pm tired & dirty.  Showered & rested.  Fed – then off to pictures (what again!) where “Mrs Miniver” was showing.  It exhibited all the usual American glamorisation of sentiment & emotion.  Just a show.  By making this trip I have missed “In which we Serve” so if you haven’t seen it by this hold your horses until I return.

Probably I find myself as lonely as you do, although I can manage to submerge myself to a great extent in work.  The nights all seem somehow short and useless.  There is practically no ground of common contact with the people I meet.  This is no doubt to be expected _ Army people talk shop as much as others do.

You’d love to be here with me in the tent I am at present occupying. – A bloody bobby dazzler.  Usually its function is to accommodate high officials & big wigs.  Because the earth round about gets mighty soggy during the wet season the floor is built some 2 ft above the ground.  To have a real wooden floor (even though made of packing cases) is dinkum Point Piper up here.  Edging the floor & meeting the tent sides is a ducky wooden fence.  Alongside the entrance steps one may tread lightly down to the sun deck furnished with deck chair.  Tent flaps are open wide & sensuously warm breezes wiggle over the old bod.  There’s room for twin beds how’s about?  Just the cool summer night touch.  All just too too.

31

I had my best sleep since being up here.  The bed is good and I have been honoured with 2 SHEETS.  Christ, this is an grim & arduous front line.  Pay up for a couple of Hail Marys and pater nosters for me, my sweet.  I’m battling through on fresh eggs, Gorgonzola, Scotch Whiskey and Van der Hum (imported).  Keeping a stiff upper lip, that’s me.  The only ointment on the fly is the dust, that’s lovely, just like wading through a foot of talcum powder.

Have walked about 6 miles today.  In the morning down to a transit camp alongside a river in which one of the troops caught, while I was there, a swordfish of all things – about 2’6” long.  Spent the afternoon at a field hospital – i.e. one in which the patients are under canvas.

All very picturesque, the large and calming masses of white & salmon tinted tents slashed and emphasised by the waving greens of paw paws & bananas.  A good spot to paint – but time is too limited.  From the newspaper point of view I should restrict myself more to close-ups of patients & to merely suggest the pleasantries of the scene.  Will spend about two days over it.

Had to go down a slit trench tonight.  I took it arse up – nose first.  This is not the accepted technique, but I had no time for indulging the niceties of descent.  I fell in.  next time I walk around after dark the torch goes with me.  Gave myself a fearful thump – winded me for a few minutes – However am all right except for some cutie saucer shaped bruises on the hip.

About time I got to bed – I’m losing my grip – mosquito dive bombing is most demoralising.

Lots of love to you my darling.

Willie

 

Hope mum got my telegram on the right day.  You have to send them early here – they say it takes about 2 days.  Glad to hear dad is still up & doing.

More affection to you from me.

Nightie.