War Letters – Borneo: 10-11 Aug 1945, Labuan; Peace rumours & concerns about getting home

W. E. Pidgeon
c/o Public Relations
1 Aust Corps
Labuan
Friday 9th August
[10 Aug 1945]

I have vowed to let my mo grow till I get home – damn it!

Image17

Darling,

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.

Bill

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.

Image18Love Willie

P.S. Don’t write after you get this letter.

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 – NW Australia: 24 Jul 1943, Darwin; Material for Women’s Weekly, daily diet & journo’s gossip

C/O DPR Unit,
Army Post Office,
Darwin,
Saturday night
[24 Jul 1943]

Darling,

I was enormously pleased to get your letter, sweetheart – it did me a lot of good –  picked the old soul up no end.  Forgive me if my last letter sounded somewhat morbid.  “Troppo” madness sets in early and I was too tired & weak to attempt good cheer.  However you will overlook it – yes?

Letters do help – one has to be away to realize that.  Poor Ivan – he must eat his heart out waiting for them.

I’m sitting down to work – have been fairly busy although my painting is not of any class as yet, it being overwhelmingly amateurish.  Obviously I need much more practice.  It’s mostly rough notes that I am compiling for a more or less free use when I come home to my cuddly snugglepot.  Judging from the material I have gathered in less than two weeks it will take me at least 2 months back in Sydney working flat out to cover the space necessary for any sort of decent display.  That’s good news, heh?

They’re still discussing this & that.  It’s U.S. and Jap strategy now & I cannot help but listen.  Destroys my thoughts.

25

A great call comes through for us to eat supper sandwiches.  And at present that’s nothing to look forward to.  We are on “tropical spread” a bloody margarine substitute – tastes like blasted coconut oil.  Should be butter any time now.  We have only had to bear the burden for a couple of days.

The poor old pate is sight to behold, huge shivers of burnt up skin float slowly off its tarnished dome.  My face is a dried apricot with pimples on it.  The bank roll is still well – I’ve only spent a tenner so far.  You must apologise to the boys for me and explain that to date it is next door to impossible to buy anything up here.  My only expenses are household – you can’t spend any on grog at other camps as each officer only gets so much ration & none is really left over for visitors to buy for them.  I’ve just bought 18 large packets of Capstans.  They seem to be all you can get.  Also I let the office buy me a real kangaroo skin tobacco pouch for 10/-.  Incidently (sic) I haven’t heard from them yet – touch wood.

You’d better go in and price that casserole doings as it’s a moral I won’t be home to consummate our tenth anniversary.  Get it if you like & give a dinner to the Watso’s & O’Deas out of it.  Do me in style and don’t forget to leave an empty setting at table for me – don’t neglect my drinks either.  Telepath me lots of lurv.

It’s no secret about McNulty.  I knew in Brisbane.  No doubt King & Cyril resented his queer behaviour.  Perhaps he didn’t like to let Cyril know that the estimable Brian was to be his superior.  The set-up has violent possibilities.  Cyril will object to Penton’s policies & the daily night work.  Pretty ‘orrid what!

We don’t do our own washing.  Every day we change and one of the poor unfortunates chores for us all.  Ironing is done as well.  We do nothing but eat.  None of these blokes are what you could call drinking men.  Although there is at least 5 bottles Corio – 3 gin & 5 port, 1 hock, 1 advocat & 2 beer no one wants a drink.  I’ll be glad to get out again.  Am going down the road tomorrow – shall be away about 4 days finishing up at the last camp I stayed at.  They’re having a do on Thursday 29th.  Ray Stehr & Tom Izzard, prominent Sydney footballers, also 4 other leading Sydney Rugby players are in the unit.  To my great despair I won’t see any of your letters until I come back, my pet.  I’ll forward you letters from where ever I am.

Mindil Beach, Darwin
Mindil Beach, Darwin

 

24 x 18 cmAll the gang have been on the beach this afternoon.  It seems incredible that the water should be so warm and the weather so glorious.  Dozens of soldiers turn out for a dip it’s all very gay and nude – the probeing & squealing is reminiscent of a schoolboys water carnival.  An amazing assortment of Freds strike the eye.  I retire with modesty – grander and stouter are encountered with every flick of the eye.

W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work
W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work

 

 

Air Force Pool, Darwin
Air Force Pool, Darwin

Yesterday I spent some time painting the delightful freshwater pool I wrote you of some time back.  To my great satisfaction I had the spot alone for close on 1½ hours when 20 or there about soldiers came roaring down like wolves on the fold.  I fled soon after.  On the way back saw dozens of wallabies.  The poor creatures suffer the fate of rabbits down south – dazzled by car lights they are struck & killed.

The blarsted typing has started again. So farewell for the nonce my love.  It’s going to be a great thrill when we meet.

Lot & lots

Bill

Inside, looking out
Inside, looking out