War Letters – Borneo: 24 July 1945, Brunei; Afternoon tea with the local villagers

W.E. Pidgeon
C/o Public Relations
1 Aust Corps
Tuesday night
24 July


My dear Jess,

Am now on the mainland of Borneo and am camped at a spot by the river about 1/2 mile out of what is left of the village of Brunei.  I remember seeing an article on the leader page of  ‘The Herald’ in which this joint was described as the ‘Venice of the east’.  If Venice is anything like this God help it!  On the opposite side of the river there must be a couple of hundred native houses built over the water & supported by timbers much the same as the Papuan houses around Moresby.  There is an incessant coming & going of small boats – in & out from the houses, up and down the river – all over the bleeding place.  These houses look drearily squalid but the touch of tropic romance (sic) is supplied by a group of young kids paddling & singing a queer Malayan song which carries well across the water.  A slithering sound & a rasping of dry grass makes me jump & consider horrific images of pythons crushing Willie’s bones.  I escape this pulpy fate & sigh to see a lizard of the brightest cutest green imaginable and he eyes me obliquely & unmovingly.  After time I’ll take without a qualm the pinkest of elephants.  Maybe it was the gin I had last night.

I am escorted by an intrepid bodyguard from the Public Relations.  Apparently his job is to arrange transport for me and to fight off the Japs while I pursue the arts and further the successes of the “Women’s Weekly”.

It took us 4 1/2 hours to cross from Labuan.  After a large trip like this and a modest suggestion of a hangover I would willingly have given Borneo back to the wild men.

Had a bit of a snooze just before tea which is at 5.30 pm.  Incidentally the time the army is operating on is all haywire. I reckon it is about 1 1/2 hours ahead of what it should be.  This close to the equator one must expect normally sunrise about 6 am and sunset about 6 pm.  As it is sunup is nearer 7.30 am than anything and it gets dark at 8.  All this guff merely to tell you we have tea really at about 4 pm.

MP escort on a visit to the village at Brunei
MP escort on a visit to the village at Brunei
Wep with some local children, most likely in Brunei
Wep with some local children, most likely in Brunei

Went over the village (the part that is sensibly built on land) after tea.  Accompanied by an army cop who talked and explained all the doings like a cook’s tour spruiker.  Had two cups of tea in a native home – this palace was underneath the house proper and in the room which I would say was approx. 15′ x 15′ lives 4 couples & an uncountable number of children.  These natives sure know how to reproduce the young.  The provost fellow knew a few words of Malay and all was giggles & tea swilling.  The higher social level here is maintained by the Chinese of whom some are really good lookers.  Many of them are pretty wealthy and live in large & airy homes bounded by gracious tress, bamboos, & banana plants.  Basically it is an interesting enough place although now sadly in need of repair & paint since the Japanese occupation.  The natives here are hard bargainers and see to it that the army boys pay plenty for what they want in the way of souvenirs.  Saw some magnificent sarongs some of the lads had paid 50 dollars for.  50 dollars to you mug, is about £7.10.0.  Quite a whack!

There’s a bug of some sort creeping round here making noises just like dear old Joe Palooka’s “Tch, Tch”.

Some of the little native kids are delightful.  I’d like to buy one for little Graham.  They carry on with the same antics.

Little Wep; The Australian Women's Weekly, 21 Jul 1945
Little Wep; The Australian Women’s Weekly, 21 Jul 1945

Jimmy Smyth’s wife posted him the cover with our little man on it.  I look at it lovingly & it is now travelling Brunei State with me.  Is he looking after you all right?

I think I’ll push off to bed as I’m all wore out.  My salubrious couch consists of a hip hole in the earth – a ground sheet, a blanket, and a mosquito net.

Yours for better sleeping – loving Will.


8.30 am Wed.  The Brunei ground takes the fun for hardness.  It all added up to the longest night I think I’ve ever spent.  At last I have achieved a measure of benevolent dignity.  Graciously I acknowledge the salutes of the astute and discerning natives.  I walk along bowing & beaming like Queen Elizabeth.  The natives are nuts on gold teeth.  One soldier here told of a Malayan who had all his teeth covered & leaving a heart shaped window in the gold in the front – “Very pretty it was too”, says the boy.  I’ll bet?



Smart effect that

Lots of love darling to you & Graham


War Letters – Borneo: 19 July 1945, Labuan; Morotai to Labuan via transport plane

Write to
W.E. Pidgeon
War Correspondent
Public Relations
1st Aust Corps
Thursday 10.15 am
[19 Jul 1945]


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.

Morotai: mobile printing press for publishing the Army newspaper Table Tops
Morotai: mobile printing press for publishing the Army newspaper Table Tops

Mobile printing press at Morotai used for printing "Table Tops", Mobile printing press at Morotai used for printing "Table Tops",

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.


Morotai, The Australian Women's Weekly, 3 Nov 1945, p11
Morotai, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 3 Nov 1945, p11

[Letter included caricatures of fellow correspondents Cliff Eager, Alan Dawes, Jimmy Smyth & Noel Adams.]

4 Borneo and Morotai Letters-214 Borneo and Morotai Letters-22 4 Borneo and Morotai Letters-23 4 Borneo and Morotai Letters-24

Early morning transport plane
Early morning transport plane
Interior of a Douglas C47 transport plane
Interior of a Douglas C47 transport plane
Wep sitting amongst the mail bags on a Douglas C47 transport pla
Wep sitting amongst the mail bags on a Douglas C47 transport plane