War Letters – Borneo: 26 July 1945, Seria; Oil wells set on fire during Japanese evacuation

W. E. Pidgeon
c/o Public Relations
Thursday
26th July [1945]

 

Darling,

Am now on the North East coast of Borneo – still in Brunei protectorate and staying at a place called Seria where the Japs fired the oil wells before evacuation.  These fires are really a sight and  a half.  Hours before you arrive here you can see the smoke billowing into the sky, forming what looks like at  a causal glance a great distant range of hazy mountains.  Closer – the light of the sun is shut out by the smoke and an ominous pall of near darkness and portentous gloom hangs over the jungle.  The fires spout out with a roar like a thousand great blow lamps – the flames, or rather a huge swirling billow of fire twists its way into rolling volumes of thick and pungent smoke.  Am going down this morning to see the boys attempt to put one out.  This is a cert for a “Women’s Weekly” job if the whole business up here is not a cold duck before I finish.

 

Burning oil wells at Seria
Burning oil wells at Seria

I’m getting a bit worried about that as movement in this area is slow and at times difficult to obtain.  I have yet to go to the northern Brunei area and to Balik Papan.  I think I had best speed things up as much as possible.  The jungle here is much more opulent, sleeker, and fatter in the leaf, and in diversity and colour, than that of New Guinea.  Lasiandra grows like a weed all over the place.  It’s a pretty poor specimen – a meager squirt of the thing compared to the one that I used to grow.  How’s it doing since the great disaster?  Do you keep woman wet?

Haven’t had any letters from you yet, but as I have not expected any I guess no damage is done.  How are things going with you – I hope your mother is not pumping too much food into your petite frame.  Have not seen anything worthwhile bringing home.  I’m afraid the early troops have cleaned out everything of any style or value.

Went down to very well spoken chinese fellow’s home last night.  He was an expert employee of the oil company’s before the Japs came.  He has avoided working for the Nips since their arrival & in secret meetings with other chinese always spoke English & talked of the time they would return.  A little girl [Peggy Ho] about 6 or 7 years of age sang “I’ll always call you sweetheart” tunefully & in extremely good English.  I remember well the last time I heard that song in company.  Sofala days!  That little chinese kid couldn’t have been more than 4 when the Japs came!  One more drawing in this particular area & I think I’ll move off.

Lots of love to you & Graham & Mum.  I’m getting quite anxious to hear about him – his latest in wisecracks and his new found dietetic acquisitions.

Love,

Bill

Oil wells at Seria set alight by the Japanese before departing
Oil wells at Seria set alight by the Japanese before departing
Oil wells at Seria set alight by the Japanese before departing
Oil wells at Seria set alight by the Japanese before departing
Oil wells at Seria set alight by the Japanese before departing
Oil wells at Seria set alight by the Japanese before departing
Oil wells at Seria set alight by the Japanese before departing
Oil wells at Seria set alight by the Japanese before departing

 

Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at
Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at Seria using a bulldozer rigged up with steam jet
Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at
Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at Seria using a bulldozer rigged up with steam jet
Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at
Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at Seria using a bulldozer rigged up with steam jet
Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at
Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at Seria using a bulldozer rigged up with steam jet
Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at
Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at Seria using a bulldozer rigged up with steam jet
Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at
Australian engineers rig up a system to put out the oil fires at Seria using a bulldozer rigged up with steam jet

 

[Study for Burning oil wells at Seria II][Study for Burning oil wells at Seria III]Oil wells at Seria set alight by the Japanese before departing

21 x 11 cm 21 x 11 cm Oil wells at Seria set alight by the Japanese before departingBurning oil wells at Seria Oil wells at Seria set alight by the Japanese before departing

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