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 – 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 – New Guinea: 28 Jan 1944, Finschhafen; Scarlett Beach, on the nose

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O P.R. Unit
N. G. Forces
Moresby
28th Frid
[28 Jan 1944]

Darling,

We have another lamp – scrounged from the same poor simple soul from whom we borrowed the remains of last night’s signal lamp.

Roy sits opposite writing his new sweetie (brunette & beautiful and with husband in internment camp) and punctuating the oppressing stillness of the night with requests regarding the correctitude of his spelling.  The old garrulity with less physical actions.  He writes like he talks – it pours out of him, pages flash past on the blink of an eye.

I haven’t had a clean shirt on since I hit Finschafen.  The one I wear at present has the odour & appearance of a tarpaulin from one of Gearin O’Riordan’s trucks.  The other is still wet from its rinsing in a creek down by the beach.  Although I am as pleasant a little nosegay as one would find in many a week.  A European Gorgonzola would walk away from me with a peg on its snout.

19

Now that the lamp is here I find myself regretting not having brought that New Testament with me as with its kindly simplicity I could have killed a few hours before sealing myself up in the meat safe up yonder bank.

You have guessed, I hope my uninspiring letters are due to the overwhelming enervation of the tropics plus the lack of comfort in the tent.  I’m sitting on an oil drum with grinds of flesh off my behind, my eyes are full of coral dust – I’m due to start turning yellow from surfeit of Atabrin tablets (to suppress malarial infection) from neglect of taking salt tablets which they say are necessary to counteract the excessive loss of bodily salt in sweat, and God knows what else. The half if me that is alive is tolerably happy.

I don’t know particularly what to draw as under the present conditions camp life is practically synonymous with that in the N.T. Make it all green & the jobs done.

Went about 8 miles down the Road this afternoon – hitch hiked in half a dozen different trucks.  May just have well flown as I was in the air at least half the time.

4

I forgot to give you a rough idea of what I look like in jungle green & American garters.  Of course the Japs just flee squealing for the son of Heaven at such an apparition.

5

Scarlet Beach

In front of me is a picture reconstruction of a beach landing for official War Artist Cpt R C Hodgkinson Military History Section.

6

The light is going out for want of kerosene.  Bugger me – this is the sort of thing that slays one!  I can just see you now.  Everything is going black – it’s quite black now.

Later – we have managed to get some more kerosene, whacko the diddle-o!  I’m not smelling any better – even the skunks are moving out.  I don’t’ mind that so much but I seem to be bringing in the flies.  Soon I shall thwart them in my little meat safe.

7

Am putting off going to the blarsted hammock.  12 hours of posing in various uncomfortable postures is much too much of a good thing even for a body like mine – “booful hunk of a man! These are the basic positions.

8

War Letters – New Guinea: 27 Jan 1944, Scarlett Beach; – Casualty Clearing Station

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O P.R. Unit
N. G. Forces
Moresby
Thurs 27th Jan [1945]

Darling,

Am writing by a 1 candle power lamp which as the mood suits the letter may be changed to cast either red, green or white light.  Green is the color called for but unfortunately its illuminative qualities are quite on the blink.

Red is not helpful.

Roy H is under his mosquito net growling about things in general and about the job he is on in particular.  He has to reconstruct a beach landing made here a couple of months ago.  Not the best of jobs in the world with the extremely limited facilities available.  He has just yelled out his regards to you.  Alice comes in for a lit of cracks – appears she had all sorts of affairs.  Roy laughs a lot about it all.  Says she is stinking to the girl he now takes out.

Today is about the first time I have felt human since I arrived.  Possibly because I have done a bit of modest work and am settled down for a few days.  Am going round to the Casualty Clearing Station to see if there is anything of interest for the Weekly.  Should be because the nurses there are closer to the front lines than any others.  Did I tell you I travelled from Moresby in the plane with them?  Fifteen there were, and no beauties amongst them.  After that off to the Ramu Valley.

Filed Hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Possibly a Casualty Clearing Station near Scarlett Beach in the Finshhafen area, New Guinea
21 x 11 cm
Possibly a Casualty Clearing Station near Scarlett Beach in the Finshhafen area, New Guinea

We had a swim this afternoon – it was delightful.  Crystal water – cool, refreshing.  Bombers going Japwards overhead.  Lots of lads in the water & on the beach. We’re getting pretty sick of the sight of bare bums & privates.

Friday morning [28 Jan 1944]

Disaster overtook this letter last night.  Roy had borrowed this lamp I spoke of above from the Signallers – they implored him to look after it.  At the above stage of my letter the bloody thing caught fire & I couldn’t for the life of me blow it out.  All my puffing & blowing served to feed the flames turning the whole gazaboo into the finest of blow lamps.  The solder melted reflector and handle fell off – flaming kerosene spilled on Roy’s drawing board – he was in a panic for his work – I was busy shovelling sand (rather mud) over the blaze.

The lamps was a sorry sight.  We laughed ourselves sick.  Must have done me good for I slept till 6am.

Lots of love darling – Taking it easy?

Bill.

War Letters – New Guinea: 26 Jan 1944, Finschhafen; Scarlett Beach, snug as a bug

W.E. Pidgeon
C/o P R Unit
N. G. Forces
Moresby
Wed 25th 26th or 27th
[26 Jan 1944]

Darling,

How would you be feeling this morning?  Taking it easy on the verandah?  Keeping the mosquitoes off?  I am managing that quite well now that I have commandeered a decent American hammock from the P. Relations.

Hammock with built in mosquito net and rain roof
Hammock with built in mosquito net and rain roof

A legitimate transaction I hasten to add it’s a very flash doover – a hammock with waterproof roof and walls of mosquito net joined together with zippers.  In I hops & does myself up like a ruddy meat safe while the anoppeles wave frustrated stingers without.

24 x 18 cm 24 x 18 cm 24 x 18 cm 24 x 18 cm

Am in another camp again.  Have pitched tent with Roy Hodgkinson & another fellow.  I’m praising the place when I say it’s a pretty dreary joint.  I’m told it is typical of a forward site.  No lights, so these letters are written hastily after tea.  I haven’t done a drawing in your letters yet because I’ve been too b- sour.  Last night I slept or rather attempted to, on a bed of coral covered with a ground sheet and a blanket.

US Post Office APO322, Finschhafen, New Guinea
US Post Office APO322, Finschhafen, New Guinea
A Matilda tank near Finschhafen, New Guinea
A Matilda tank near Finschhafen, New Guinea

Trucks coming & going all night & 3 air raid alerts.  I suppose I managed a couple of hours shuteye before my hip bone wore through the skin like a hole in the heel of a sock. That’s 2 nights out of 4 I have been awake since I arrived on the northern coast of N. Guinea.  Haven’t done much work so far for the simple reason I have not been able to settle down. On two occasions the camps have shifted their sites the day after I arrived.  The humidity is terrific.  I wish they’d have this show on down near the pole or someplace like.  My brain’s like a soggy lump of porridge.

After about 4 or 5 days here I’ll move off to the Ramu Valley, spend maybe a week or more & start back for the Mainland where I shall have to go on to the tablelands for a week.  Then back – I hope.  The rush has got me something rattled.  However I have about 5 pictures lined up already – should have any amount by the time I get through.

Thurs Morning [27 Jan 1944] – Not much sleep again last night – seem to be taking your complaint over.  First rain last night.  Came down in sheets.  My sweet little hammock kept it off.

Hope you are eating well.

How did that brew turn out?

My regards to junior.

Lots of love

Bill

War Letters – New Guinea: 22 Jan 1944, Finschhafen; Barge off Fortification Point

W.E. Pidgeon
(War Correspondent)
C/O DPR
New Guinea Force
Moresby
22nd Jan 44

Darling,

I am writing this in a blooming outpost of the empire – an outpost consisting of a small tent with one table, blanketed, & draped with the cooling form of your dear husband.  He has steamed off & for the first time since arrival is sitting quietly & is tolerably happy.

He has bathed in the placid waters of the Finschhafen area, has aired his body in the cool tropical breeze and has sat on damned shape coral.  With bended neck has gaped at clustered coconuts fifty feet above him – he has carefully avoided standing under them as fractured skulls are collected that there way.

Landed at Lae on the way up.  You can tell Jane [Jess’ mother] that as far as I could see there wasn’t one house standing.  They have just plain disappeared.  It may have been a pleasant enough place in the good old days, but boy, the Air Forces have sure blasted all the charms & graces to high heaven.  The coconuts stick up stripped and shorn & about as long as a 3 weeks beard.

It has turned out not so quiet – the Loot in charge of the business here is sitting opposite writing a letter – or should be.  But then I suppose he likes to talk to someone strange so we have been chatting fop the last ¾ hour.  Consequently I have been dilatory & neglectful of the cultivation of that rather sweet just too too gentle mood into which I had been dissolving with the help of broadcast songs of Betty Grable from a YMCA hut across the way.  Of times I felt like bursting out into “Sing me a Song of the islands” what with the swarms of coconut palms (we are on the edge of a coconut grove plantation) and the lap-lap of the sea to egg me on.

This side of the island is TROPIC.  The hot sweet smell of rotting vegetation under the vine lying trees brings back to mind the typical orchid house.  But the orchids although they are not in flower, at least those I saw weren’t, Hibiscus are!  The whole schmozle looks like a corner of the Botanical Gardens gone to fruit.

Sketch study for 'Barge off Fortification Point'

Barge at Fortification Point
Barge off Fortification Point, reproduced The Australian Women’s Weekly, 10 June 1944, p41; Art Gallery of NSW collection

It doesn’t seem to be hot – it must be hot!  My shirt is stuck on my back like a stamp.  Yet I think the climate is good.  You’d love it for a holiday.  The sea is blue and syrupy as the barge I’m in cuts slowly through to its landing place.  Planes zip most zippily above.

This blarsted (sic) hurricane lamp is making my eyes smart.  My mind wanders whilst I most conscious of the static ache in my bum, brought about by the constant pressure of the tuberosities of the ischium upon the unresponsive board of a box of dehydrated potatoes.

I am writing whilst waiting to take off (not in a plane) on another leg of my journey of which I shall write you at more length when I find some place to settle down for a few nights.

You deserve more than a rough resume committed to paper in circumstances most undesirable.

So lots and lotzer what it takes from dear Willie.

Be good & don’t work
and don’t _______________
“     “     _______________        fill
“     “     _______________        in
“     “     _______________        as
“     “     _______________        required
“     “     _______________

love to you darling

Bill

The light has got me down.  I finish – to spend the rest of the night under the stars staring and sleeping.  You’ll understand what this is about later.

??ou got the mosquitoes.

Goodnight & Sweet Dreams

[parts missing off copy]

 

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