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 – Borneo: 3 Aug 1945, Weston; Jeep train to Beaufort

W. E. Pidgeon
c/o Public Relations
1 Aust Corps
3 Aug Friday [1945]

 

Dear Jesso,

Am in a stinking little grey bleached place called Weston – arrived here after 4 1/2 hours in another barge and the trip was just as hot and dull as that from Brunei.  Soft lotions of frankiness and myrth would be more beneficial to my skin than these down pouring blasts of heat.  Yesterday in Labuan we took a day off and lazed in the sun and surf and under the coconut palms while the China Sea sent sweet cooling winds to dry away the sweats.  It seemed so cool, although it was 87 degrees (symbol) in the shade of the tents that Cliff and I just sopped up sun in a big way.  Half an hour after retiring to the tent I took on a particularly choice hue of Alizarin Crimson which makes a very striking colour combination in juxtaposition to my green shirt, and makes for a very tender shoulder, not the sort of shoulder on which to sling the many and weighty packs I am lugging around.  We got up at 5.30 this morning, and waited till 8.15 for the barge to pull out.  Of course this barge must miss contact with the 12.00 jeep train that runs from here to Beaufort.  So we are waiting again.  Just a mere 2 hours for the next.  2 hours as lively as one could wish for – just as if you were on one of those unattended railway stations out west.  This jeep train is, I believe, as I haven’t yet seen it, a collection of motley old carriages and trucks pulled along a light narrow gauged line by a jeep which has had its ordinary wheels replaced by a railway type.  Weston is a hive of activity – three natives just staggered past.

Beaufort 8.30 pm.  So far this is a bastard of a place.  After a really stinking day we have been unloaded into an old evacuated house to which clings a rare odour of old Chinese or Japs.  (At least that is what I presume that is what it is).  To cap matters there’s no even a bleeding light in the whole flaming joint.  Consequently I’m writing this in a Salvation Army social tent housing at the moment 25 lively tea drinkers and one cud-chewer which is me.  The tables groan under the weight of many cuppas (or rather tinnas), the conversation is subdued but constant – the radio more than holds its own against all other noise.  Four other diligent letter writers compete with my silence.  It’s all very much like the lounge of an hotel only the liquor is tea (or whatever it may be – I am completely baffled by the taste) and the only occupants naturally are men.  It is quietly social.  And is the only place wherein I can find light enough to write this letter.  Incidentally I am the only baldy in the place, and for that matter one of the few I meet in the whole army under the rank of Colonel or Brigadier.  Nevertheless the fruitful climate of Borneo has brought forth on any arid head a fine crop of 4 or 5 brand new hairs.  These grow straight and bravely upright down the centre of  the field.  My continuity of thought is breaking down under the strain of trying to hear what everyone is saying.  The tea is evidentially encouraging them to compete with the volume of the wireless – the general level of noise has risen by 100 percent.  I think I’ll have another go at the brew that is coming out now – it seems to have some stimulating virtues from what I can here.  It’s hot and wet – it tastes sweet and has a dark cloudy look  – but I still don’t know what it is.

The jeep train was worth the trip even if there is little in it as a serious drawing job.  Perhaps a comic sketch.  The steam engines which used to draw the trucks and carriages have broken down and are under repair.  The ubiquitous jeep takes their place and draws up to 3 cars behind them. The one we came up on consisted of first a flat top truck, next an ordinary one, and lastly a box car for the rations.  Chinese and Malays occupied the first, and soldiers the second.

jeep train

It is an interesting trip.  The narrow gauge leads the train by disused paddy fields through long and delightful tunnels of tropical green.  The rubber trees meet in an arch overhead and the undergrowth that has been growing in the plantations for the last 3 1/2 years forms walls of fern and palm and flowering lasiandra which brush the body as you pass.  As a rule the track itself is carpeted in grass and only the polished lines indicate the way ahead.  An intimate green pathway over which our trucks clunkety – clunk with all the noises save that of the great asthmatic huffing of a real train.  Natives stand aside for us to pass and look just like the line people back home – but you miss the cry of “Paper! Paper!” At occasional clusters of houses in the plantations we pull up at a station and unload to the screechings and joviality’s of the Chinese.  I shall continue the train trip further onto Papar in a few days time.

Am looking forward to getting a letter in a few days.  I hope that you are both all right – also Mum.  How’s the pool and fitties?  Have you been giving the Coyes a rest.  I am feeling very holy and very well – don’t care if I don’t have a drink at all and certainly have no desire to collect myself any more hangovers.

Lots of love dear – tell little Graham Poppa thinks often of him always when I see the kids up here and there are thousands of them.

Love

Bill

Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Possibly along the Padas River near Weston, Borneo
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Padas River Ferry
Rail carriages used by the Jeep Train
Rail carriages used by the Jeep Train
Along the Jeep Train line between Weston and Papar
Along the Jeep Train line between Weston and Papar
AWW 1945-09-08 p17 Jeep Train - Copy
All aboard the jeep train for Beaufort, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 8 Sep 1945, p17