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 – New Guinea: 20 Jan 1944, Port Moresby;

Public Relations
Field Unit
HDQ
N.G. Force
20th Jan 44

Darling,

I am trying to write this in the correspondents dormitory.  Three or 4 of them lie about spine bashing – Others reminisce of their experiences in the area.  It is about 4.30 pm & it is still hot – albeit not so bad as Townsville where on Tuesday the water out of the taps (when one was allowed to use them) was 92º.

Left about 6 in the morning & we here for lunch.  It’s quite a treat to see land after flying over the sea for a couple of hours.  There were lots of clouds about & occasionally you could get glimpses of the barrier reef below – not that its much to see from the air.  Circled the town & landed amongst hills very little different from those down south.  The foliage & earth are much the same colour as that around Darwin.  However it is a picturesque spot as the mountains run fairly close to the sea & are an ominous blue under the clouds.  Long long off above the clouds can be see peaks jutting through – I guess they must be plenty high!

Tried to ring Tommy [O’Dea] but they said they hadn’t heard of him so I suppose he has not arrived yet.  I would have rung him in Brisbane but didn’t.

I don’t know that there is much I can tell you about this place.  Letters take some time to get down to you from here & God knows how long from other areas.  If you do not hear from me for a while don’t worry because it will be purely a matter of mail difficulties.  I ……[torn]…….. will not be writing much under …………………….. I shan’t be able to get many ………[torn]………………d… 10 days so don’t bother ………[torn]………… feel like it.

Am leaving here tomorrow for more important spots.  Have been issued with jungle green clothing – that beautiful aspidistra leaf trembling in the breeze over there will be me.  I don’t feel like doing anything here – even writing – it’s such a dead end.  When I move off I shall probably be too tired to send much.

There were 2 correspondents here who were at Darwin.  Caught up again with Trotter  yesterday but he moved out today.  Bill Dargie official war artist called in on me yesterday & we passed the time of day.  Roy Hodgkinson called this morning & I lunched with him at his mess up the road a bit.  He and Alice are divorced.  She is about to marry the Yank corpl (?)  Roy seems quite happy about it all.

Saw a native sing song which was turned on for Stella Wilson who is up here at the moment.  It was interesting enough but somewhat scrappy around the edges.  Not the real McCoy.  Hardly get the best effect when the music consists of a boong banging a bucket with sticks and another playing a drum like the one we have at home.

Am going tonight with the rest of the gang to hear the final concert from Stella Wilson and Edwin Styles.

Reg Harris who used to work in the office has just stuck his head around the door & sends his regards to you & Petrovs [Geoff and Molly Turton], etc.  You probably don’t remember him but what the hell!  He is not a reporter.  Has just returned from Shaggy Ridge after months of front line fighting.  He very decently gave me aluminium mess tins to save on weight.  Said you  can buy him a drink when he gets back.

Later

I’ve had a rest – a shower – a shave, etc. Tea – & the rest.

All are getting ready for the show so bye-bye for the present dear.  Hope you are well and are being careful with Junior.  Not too much work – grog – travel – and contemplation.

Lots of love, darling

Bill

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