Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: 15-17 Nov; London – shopping for a suit and coat

Thu 15-Nov-56: 2nd wedding anniversary, received cake from Dorothy. Had a look at Lincoln’s Inn. Tried on a suit & walked around shops in afternoon. Went dinner with Rex Reinits Chelsea
Fri 16-Nov-56:    Went shopping, failed to get coat for Dorothy. Went to Museum in afternoon for hour.

1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0115

Debenham Court [Possibly now the Radisson Blue Edwardian Sussex Hotel]
Granville St [Granville Place]
London
15 Nov 56

Dear sweet two-year-old wife,

Am sorry to report a fairly unrewarding day in so far as finding a suit for myself is concerned. I’ve been to Simpsons, whose stock is shockingly meager in 2 piece suits (mostly 3 piece) and that applies to all the shops-but I’m hanged if I’m going to buy a waistcoat two. Most of the suits a single breasters-and pretty well all the fabrics in different-or to light-or too loud. I only tried one suit on at Simpsons. A nice dark, but a bit loud on the stripe. Also the collar was cut down to low. God knows my neck’s long enough without isolating it. Austin Reeds had nothing I could see. Aquascutum’s apparently had the stuff but nothing under 27 to 33 gns which is on 33 to 40 gns. I reckon I could get a first-class job made for that in Sydney-and not be buying just because I have only a little time left. I find it difficult to make any decision. Go back to Simpsons early next week. I have had dinner out with the Rex Reinits and thoroughly enjoyed it. They have a flat in Chelsea and they have been married (I take it) only a little over 12 months. Although both of them have lived over here in different spots for quite some years. She [Thea] is Australian too. I think he must have married her last time he was back home, also I gather this is about his third effort. Anyway they made me happy about my 2nd anniversary and wished me the best. We played all the Romanian records and there are some really fine pieces amongst the collection. One we gave full marks to was a “doina” sung by a woman on the fact that when her love is far away she has to find comfort in other things (not men) she has to sublimate her love. At least that is the theory, or the text, of the song-so Stefania told me. It was a very beautiful and haunting melody. Lovely, and I didn’t mind the last they made when I said the love had to find comfort in other things. I will regard it as our anniversary piece. It was the first time I had heard the records at all. The fast violin pieces so recall to me that different little groups of players I had heard and the Romanian orchestra I had told you of. It was a fine clear night so I walked home a quite considerable distance, through Chelsea, and up by Hyde Park, along the ritzy hotel area. Past the Hyde Park Hotel, the Dorchester, etc. Park Lane as the street is called is I am told the great stamping ground for the girls who work at night. Even when I came after 1 o’clock there were quite a few about. But I guess I look to married and purposefully going somewhere, which I was. Surprisingly,-you’d never pick some of them to be what they are-not at least in the street lights. Some very young and quickly it’s quite attractive. God knows how many times they had been to the cost and up again, by the time I saw them. Chatting away together, comparing shoes and what not. Just like dames waiting for the bus.

I’m off to bed now, this little break with you has soothed me off into an approximate sleep. So I may as well take advantage of my stricken mood to rest myself in recuperative slumber. Good night-my dearest wife-and thank you again for the cable and the thought of getting me a dressing gown. I really couldn’t carry it back I’m as heavy as hell as it is.

8 p.m. Friday [16 November 1956]. Am back in my room after a frustrating day. Fortunately there is a radiator here-and by magic shilling in the electricity meter slot makes it work. So at least I can be warm. I saw a Rodex coat I liked for you yesterday and went back early this morning to buy it. Unfortunately it was the wrong size, and, as it is just about the end of the selling season (everybody wears a coat now) I couldn’t get one to fit. All sorts of other patterns and colours but the bloody one I wanted. Spent all morning walking all over London trying to get one without success. The flaming goons makes so many slightly different styles for the individual shop buyer’s tastes that no two shops seem to carry the same thing. I had them ring Rodex but they couldn’t help. It has now become a dammed fixation with me. I’ll have to get them to make one now and post it out. I’m very disappointed I couldn’t bring it back as a surprise-but there it is. I had to mention it-so don’t go buying yourself one in the meantime. I’m sure you’ll like it. It is quite plain and won’t date anyway. Heavens knows you’ll need it to the winter. I like going around looking for things for you-but I’m afraid I have to give it up now. Bought myself a pair of grey corduroy slacks at Selfridges-very good and only 49/6. Selfridges here is like David Jones or Myers.

Had pork chops and chips for tea. Went down to the museum again for a while this afternoon and sort of reassessed my verdict on Indian sculpture. It is better than I first thought-must have been very tired when I went before. In any case I’ve had walking around and wished to hell I was home with you both. Not looking forward to this extra week and a half, one tiny bit. I need some coupling, bad. I think I’ll go to bed and read-lots and lots of love and kisses for you my darling. Your Willie loves you very much. XXXXXXX SAOH.

Saturday morning 8:30 a.m. [17 Nov 1956]. Dear sweet beautiful lady, and wife, and mistress. Your lover is strong and gay after a good rest and an early arising. Breakfast of bacon and egg and grapefruit juice, which is brought up to my room (everyone’s room) has been satisfactorily stowed away. The day is getting lighter-albeit the fainthearted English effort of brightness-and nothing yet has happened to throw me into the very pits of despair. I’m in a great bum-slapping mood-and I would have you know it. Today I shall relax for the pleasures seeing. Am going to the Portobello market with the Reinits this morning for an hour to observe the costers at work. Later I shall either look at the Victoria and Albert Museum or take a bus ride out to Hampstead Heath which everybody has heard of and which I like to see what’s like. There’s a professor character-Jock Marshall lives out that way too. I may try and renew an old acquaintance. I’m very loving and cheerful. Have been thinking this trip to Zürich over and have decided to go by train-hoping to see something thereby Holland, Germany and Switzerland. It will cost me only £5 more than if I catch the plane here. I think I told you for £4 I can get on at London. It would cost me another £2 to stay here for accommodation so that £6 from £11 the other way (with a night at pub in Zürich) would cost = £5 which I am sure is a cheap tourist trip through three countries.

I give you the big kiss-I am upmost lark like in my mood. Funny odds and ends one sees here in London. Blokes having a cheese roll with a cheese all smothered in mustard washed down with their awful black flat draught beer. Another character, having ½ beer ½ cider in his glass-ugh! Pubs at lunchtime are more like cafes-tablecloths, hot meals, men and women, a glass or two each and a gossip for the lunch hour. Fires in the lounges and plenty of Cockney and bally high class accent coming from all quarters of the compass.

I’m going out now to get a few things done early so will get this off. Please forgive the dreadful dreary nurse of the early part of this letter. I couldn’t bring myself to rewrite it. A fine, firm, squeeze for you-and my love to the old super mechanic Graham and his working hound Nortey Trellie. If he could teach her to talk she could do the messages while he sat around on his great fat ass. Poor Tommy [O’Dea]-that radio must have him horrified. Why don’t you send grain with it up in the bus to Ferries at Lane Cove. Opposite the post office. Another, even firmer hug for you, in private.

Love, love, love, from your own particular man

Bill

1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0113 1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0112

Looking up Shaftesbury Avenue from Regent Street at Piccadilly Circus, London; 15 November 1956

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Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: 6-9 Oct; Bucharest and its monuments

Sat 6-Oct-56:      Saw Pioneers Palace [Cotroceni Palace]. Did some washing in afternoon. Had fair bit of claret with dinner with Charles Grant.
Sun 7-Oct-56:     Nothing much done. Somewhat seedy. Saw Rigoletto in evening.
Mon 8-Oct-56:   Met Deac at Ministry of Culture – Acamadic library – Maxy artist. Much moi.
Tue 9-Oct-56:     Palace by the lake. Decorative art show. Big walk about Bucharest. Got pushed. Followed my nose out. Missed my mummy

1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0045

This endearing note was written on Saturday night 6 Oct.

Dorothy – It means you so close – then it goes away. A symbol of sound that is a life line to – oh go and pull your big head in! I can’t be bothered about a resume of what I see & do. What people do & think is more important than anything in the world. When I see a Englishman who has spent 4 years in Rumania learning art abasing himself before a girl – any girl – perhaps she was tired – she deserved to be escorting Chinese through Rumania. However this character loves this girl and it is very trying because she has had him. Personally I’d give them both away. Please do not be jealous of my Stephania – She is only 21 and always delighted to be away from me. My conversation is so gay. Yet she’s kind and the affection I need to project must go to her. You know what a girl of that age thinks of an ancient like me. I am not Freddy Thomas O’Dea the pincher.

I wish I was getting as hot (that means weather heat) in Northwood as I am here. I have just washed all my socks & thingamys. I am strictly informed that the femme de chamber will do all these unnecessary chores – Like Hell. Little Willie gives none a nylon garment. I have done them.

Sunday morning [7 Oct 1956], in the cold light of day. 8am. This overseas travelling can get very tiresome. I have got to the stage where, looking at buildings & scenery, becomes as interesting as a stranger’s photographs of his backyard & family. When all the impressions are simmered down, the things I shall remember most, will be the paintings I have seen. They give out to the heart directly – They alone have the commodity of spirit – the intimacy, one so urgently needs.

Yesterday – in a funny old cellar, I together with a practically deaf painter from Iceland, were shown quite a collection of French masters. Renoir, Utrillo, Dufy, Marquet, etc. They were all in this cellar because the house was being redecorated to exhibit them properly. They belonged to a wealthy man named Zambaccian, and have been given to the State. His son showed them to us – and when we had finished very generously gave us 2 volumes on the Rumanian masters Grigorescu & Petrascu, of whose works, we also saw many. Very good too. The Institute has given me 2 magnificent volumes too. Christ, my luggage is getting heavy. I love you. I love you. I love you. I was not as bad last night as the above script suggests. Must have been the reaction from all this English talk. I gave my little mother time off from midday Sat. till tonight at 7pm when we go to the opera again.

Sunday night. [7 Oct 1956] Saw Rigoletto & it was very good indeed. The costumes were beautifully worked – I suppose there are plenty of good needle workers in this part of the world. The Opera House itself is a lovely building & was put up in a very short time during 1953 – in order to have its opening night coinciding with the World Youth Festival held here that year. The opera house has fine spacious lounges & gracious stairways. Had dinner at 11 o’clock and am now about to wash a shirt & retire to the cot. Good night, sweetie.

Monday night. [8 Oct 1956] 9.30pm. Have had dinner – went in at 8pm when the dining room opened. Am very tired – probably bored – living the life of a sponge – sopping up this & that – and giving nothing out. Perhaps it is a reaction from a flat afternoon – most of the galleries & cultural centres are closed to allow staff the time off for weekend work. We just sort of mooned around. The lass doesn’t like leaving me alone because it’s her job to interpret. And consequently there is nothing much I can do about dicing her. I’d have felt better if I had gone for a couple of miles walk. I don’t like getting too far off the beaten track because of the complete lack of oral communication – and the absence of a map of the city. It really is a nicely laid out place. I can imagine that when the consumer goods are coming through & the general standard of living rises this Bucharest will be as beautiful as its layout & buildings deserve.

Saturday and Sunday the multitudes come out in the Sunday best & roam all over the city – greatly improving the tone of the joint. Am getting to the stage of an affection for it. The climate & colour of the buildings remind me of home. In a few days I shall be going up to Sinaia & Transylvania & will visit a city named Cluj. I was wrong about the letter cost, it is only 5/6. Showed Stephanie your photo & Graham’s and photos of the paintings – she seemed to like them – and said you were very nice (what else could she do? P.S. I know she meant it.). She introduced me to her boyfriend, a nice looking young German who has been living in Rumania quite a few years, and he is an announcer on the radio station – knows 5 languages. My girl when she is not shepherding the dumb oxes like me also works for radio, as a translator & reader in English. These people are very keen & avid for study. You really sense them building something. Sitwell’s photos of the Rumanian women may be authentic for the peasants, but in the city there is a minority of really good lookers. Not presented at their best, an absence of lipstick & smart clothes. Waiting for the letter from you and Graham which I know should turn up soon. One does get lonely even in the midst of plentitude. Bought Graham the treble only tunes of 225 Rumanian Folk Pieces – dance, etc. They were collected & collated by the Institute for Folklore, etc. Didn’t seem to be able to get any two hundred piano collections. Seeing that none of it is played on the piano in the native habitat – I don’t suppose it matters much. Some day he may be able to transpose the tunes with his own bass & elaboration. At least the genuine fiddle line is clear in selection. Too tired darling to continue. Keep on being fond of me & pray added strength to my failing bones.

Tuesday night. [9 Oct 1956] 12.30am. I have arranged to be left alone for a day – that is tomorrow. I awoke at 5am this morning – had some drops & tried to sleep – but at 6 o’clock decided to get up. At 7am. Went for a walk over Bucharest without a map (and a dull, promising rain, morning) – sufficient to say that I got bushed for about ¾ hour but by the cunning devices of following a trolley bus wires (in the right direction) I contacted civilization & managed to get back to the pub only ¼ hour late for my appointment to see things. For nearly 2 ½ hours I walked Bucharest, in all sorts of quarters. Poorish indifferent, grand & flamboyant. I think this place has got it! It has individuality – all the residences are different. I’ll do it again with a camera. The parks & boulevards are superb & very grubby. My mother and I run out of conversation fairly quickly because she is too young. I regard her as a favourite niece. I wish you were here- as much as I wish you were with me anywhere else I have been. The things I have seen that I can never talk to you about, or make you see them with my amazed eyes. Sometimes, please darling, let me get drunk and tell you how I have felt about these sights. I don’t want to talk to others – to you, I wish to give a picture, with you beside me – although I know it won’t work. Rome has already become a sort of dream one would think up from a postcard. St Mark’s Square in Venice is still pretty real. One of the sights of the world. The huge Irrawaddy River spilling all over the low lying land in the Calcutta Delta. I shall not forget. Or – for that matter any other God damned thing I saw. I’d like to be home now telling you with my head on your lap, and you going to sleep, before I had finished. Wished you could have been with me out at the Maraseojowc(?) Palace this morning – It was the residence of the last Prime Minister, King Michael had. Fan Fuming –tastic. Has been turned into a sculptural museum & part of a hotel for creative artists where they can rest their poor weary brains in a couple of months beatific contemplation. I’m sick of stuffing food down my gullet. I’m sick of eating at 12 o’clock in the night. (I’ve just heard a Jugo-Slav conductor presiding over the local Philharmonic) I’m not quite sure whether I was not happier alone. I’ve seen so many things I’m not at all certain if I shall ever get them in the right sequence. Apart from the fact of going there – and the must of seeing their galleries, I feel as if I couldn’t care less about Paris & London. It has been very hot but now is cold & wet. When you get this letter on a spring morning – think a message to me across this way. My love to you darling & Graham,

from your husband Bill

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same
Believed to be a sculptural museum and hotel for creative artists, Bucharest, Romania; 9 October 1956 (Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidentified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same.)

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same

Believed to be a sculptural museum and hotel for creative artists, Bucharest, Romania; 9 October 1956 (Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidentified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same.)

Wep refers to this as the Maraseojowc (unidetified?) Palace, the last residence of King Michael. However I believe this to be Elizabeta Palace and not the same

Lake Cismigiu, Cismigiu Gardens, Bucharest, Romania; 10 October
Lake Cismigiu, Cismigiu Gardens, Bucharest, Romania; 10 October 1956
Strolling around Bucharest, Romania; 10 October 1956
Strolling around Bucharest, Romania; 10 October 1956
Strolling around Bucharest, Romania; 10 October 1956
Strolling around Bucharest, Romania; 10 October 1956
Bucarest, la ville at ses monuments by Grigore Ionesco; c.1956
Bucarest, la ville at ses monuments – Grigore Ionesco; c.1956

War Letters – New Guinea: 7 Feb 1944, Port Moresby; Picnic at Rouna Falls

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O PR Unit
N. G. Forces
Moresby
6th Feb Mon 10 am
[7 Feb 1944]

Darling,

Am back in Moresby and will soon (in a couple of days) be on my way back to the mainland where I am afraid I shall have to put in a week or so on the Tablelands.  In any case it is certain that I shall be home within three weeks – maybe two.

14

Tommy [O’Dea] called into this unit on Sunday afternoon after five minutes after I had arrived back from the local air strip.  Had only a few words with him but may go round to his living quarters tonight.  Previously I couldn’t locate him as he is stationed away from the Navy proper.  He drove off in a jeep.  Christ, he looked funny!  Quite a bleaming blade.  Just as well he didn’t have a nurse or Amwas or something with him because on such occasions travel is accompanied by screams, cat calls and yahoos by all and sundry.

He looks well enough & quite happy.  Said he flew up from Brisbane with only the slightest of brain flappings.

Bill Marien ex-Telegraph man (you will remember him up at the Castlereagh – big dark fattish chap with a girl wif lovely teef from Rockdale way) has gone back to mainland.  I shall have a few drinks with him at the Officers Club where I last wrote you from.

Don’t write me any more letters here – or anywhere for that matter as I probably won’t get them.  I received one from you while staying in the Ramu Valley.  Sorry to hear you are so lonely  – it won’t be so long now darling,

Hawkeye Hawkesley is the big noise around here.  The life & soul of the party so to speak.  Must get Tommy to take me down to the American Officer’s club as I would like to get myself some few things.  Everybody at St Percy’s (as this school for boys is fondly known) has managed to get something or other.

Sunday saw a great organised picnic in the hills at a joint called Rouna Falls.  Really very pleasant & falls quite impressive.  The celibates managed to collect 5 nurses to take along.  No Helens of Troy amongst them.  5 nurses to 12 men is a super abundance of feminity in these perfumeless parts.

Haven’t contracted as far as I know any scrofs, plagues or poxes.  Have lost my pot belly and most of the other superfluous fats.  Found it necessary to drag the belt in 4 holes.  Sweated quite a bit in my time up here.

W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work in New Guinea near Rouna Falls, Port
W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work in New Guinea near Rouna Falls, Port Morseby
W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work in New Guinea near Rouna Falls, Port
W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work in New Guinea near Rouna Falls, Port Morseby
W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work in New Guinea near Rouna Falls, Port
W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work in New Guinea near Rouna Falls, Port Morseby
2 New Guinea - 10 Port Moresby Area-5
W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work in New Guinea near Rouna Falls, Port Morseby

Had a few snaps taken of myself.  They are not of much consequence.

Nothing doing here, so there will be no more news from me until after I get away.

Saw “Stage door canteen” at the pictures Sat night. Just a show.

Hope you are feeling well & are not getting too bats for public circulation.  Be good until you see me again.  Shall probably arrive at Martin Place about 4.30 pm one bright day.  Bring the Ponty in & we’ll give Coys a slight break.  [Harold and Bassie Coy ran the Hotel Hunters Hill, a favoured drinking spot of Wep and Jess.]  Haven’t missed the grog up here.  If it’s not about you don’t need it.  Lots of love dear.

Bill.

Unidentified War Correspondent, possibly a photographer, at Roun
Unidentified War Correspondent, possibly a photographer, at Rouna Falls, near Port Moresby, New Guinea
A native Fuzzy Wuzzy at Rouna Falls, near Port Moresby, New Guin
A native Fuzzy Wuzzy at Rouna Falls, near Port Moresby, New Guinea

War Letters – New Guinea: 31 Jan 1944, Moved out to the upper Ramu Valley

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O Public Relations
N. G. Forces
Moresby
Mon 31st [Jan 1944]

Darling,

Am settled down in a permanent base at last.  Although I shall probably be in the mountains north of here most of the time I can at least have any letters you have written forwarded to me this area.

Yesterday I hitch-hiked out of Finschhafen, managing a jeep ride through prodigious jungle to an airstrip.  After coming out of the really dense but only moderately high jungle around the areas in which  I was these enormous tree were singularly impressive.  Some seemed at least 200 ft high the trunks barely discernible beneath the profusion of  parasitic vines orchids lichens and stag horns. The trunks thrusting like spears towards the light above – not much foliage in the dank darkness beneath the high green canopy.  It’s a damn sight more satisfactory to see the country by road than it is either by air or sea.  The details, the small and the undergrowth noise of birds and insects provide an intimacy quite lacking in those other forms of transport.

Lae looked no better to me on a second visit.  Everything seems dry and blasted as well it might be after the pounding it received.  Flying up the Ramu valley is everything Tommy [O’Dea] said it was – a hell of a lot more into the bargain.  Now that was a trip to be seen from a plane.  The most beautiful placer I’ve ever seen.  The brilliant green kumai grass along the flats edging the Ramu River makes its way up the treeless & knife edged foot hills to the bases of two colossal mountain ranges which enclosed the valley.  The clouds wind the depressions between peaks & plume off the highest points in great dramatic forms.  The unbelievable blues & greens below edge off into the sombre silhouettes of mountains like Mt Helwig which is 10,000 ft.  The fading light throughs the clouds into the starkness of black & white.  Small grey thatched native villages appear at irregular intervals and I leapt from window to window of the plane with the alacrity of a flea.

There were only 3 passengers in the plane (a big Douglas transport job loaded to the plimsoll with tins of dehydrated potatoes, soup, ration tins & what have you).    It seemed a long time getting off the ground – the tail did not appear to lift any too well.  My stomach anxiously awaited the disappearance of the strip beneath.  Next thing I know is that my guts are trying to get on the other side of my backbone – we had gone into a steep climb.  Next we are over the grassy foothills so low that the bloody stuff seemed to be whizzing past the windows.  Cripes I’ll bet the pilot cleared the ridges by only 4 feet.  Then the grass on the plains would appear suspiciously close.  I would think we were losing height because of the weight of cargo – then up and back the guts would go again.  If it hadn’t been for the scenery the trip would have been an anxious misery.

Found on landing that we had been brought up by a Yank known as the Mad Major.  He tosses these Douglas’s round like fighters.  He has been seen doing loops and slow rolls with them.  Too much bloody exuberance.  Strangely enough he was no chicken although a big wildly laughing guy.  I am told he was grounded for recklessness whilst with a Lightning fighter squadron. Ah me!

If you see Mrs Farrow or Farrar, the dame down the road, you can tell her that I have nearly met her brother.  I found the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion but he wasn’t in the particular company I came across.  I may meet him tomorrow.  This beautiful country belies its looks – it’s lousy with all the worst tropical plagues, itches – and worse things.

This is by far the best camp I have stayed in.   Good food – fairly cool – plenty of birds decent tents & native built huts – and amicable company.  The press advance headquarters are here and 2 P.R. officers to look after us.  4 or 5 correspondents are here at the moment.  So its just like living in the Journalists’ Club except that there is no tasty ale.

While I think of it, will you ring Syd King, police roundsman at the office & ask him how much my betting debt is.  Then post him a check.  Thankyou, my pet.

Nothing else at the moment.  Have not been able to get a letter from you yet but hope to receive some from Moresby when I come out of them there hills.  I have two days march in front of me after leaving the jeep track head.  Boy will I be weak.  May have a boong carrier to help me along.

Hope you are looking after yourself. Lots of love darling.

Bill

18

Native huts near a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Native huts near a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Native huts near a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Native huts near a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea

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 – NW Australia: 14 Aug 1943, near Hughes Airfield; Jap air raid interrupts the party

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
Army Post Office
Darwin
Saturday
[14 Aug 1943]

Darling,

I’m still here.  I suppose you gave me a little thought when you read that N.T. area had been raided by 18 Jap planes on Friday night.*  Well, your little Willie was right out of it.  It occurred during the middle of the party I spoke of in my last letter.  We were all gathered around some tables in the middle of the bush not far from one of the air strips (as they call the aerodromes here) when the warning came over.  Some of the pilots had to dash off to their Spitties.  The lights went off and we continued our drinking in the bright moonlight assisted by the light of a parachute flare which one of the Jap planes dropped over the area.  Old deafie didn’t hear the planes – there was so much alcoholic conversation being broadcast.  A moment later ack-ack fire started – booms & flashes split the night.  Shrapnel from the bursts fell in the camp where I stayed last week.  Fortunately for us the Japs weren’t after the fighter planes – they flew past & dropped their eggs near 2 bomber fields.  One of these I described to you as being situated in the hills. I stayed there on Wednesday night.  The yellow boys might just as well have saved their time, petrol and bombs as neither damage nor casualties (so far as I have heard) were inflicted.  So – a miserable flare is all I’ve seen of the war up in this front line.  There appears to be an expectation of another bash tonight – it being a magnificently full moon.  Perhaps it is just as well I’m not in Darwin or staying in a bomber camp, although they tell me that even a poor bloody Allied Works Council camp stopped a stick of bombs last night.  The only physical stress I have collected is plenty of bites – and then some.  I scratch like a lousy old dog.

The party was pretty willing while it lasted.  Met a Spitty pilot from one of the squadrons who asked how both you and I were keeping.  We met him outside St James theatre with Paul Brennan and some others just before they left for Canada two years ago.

Have just been asked if I’d like to go down to an American bomber field tomorrow.  Think I’ll go down & see what sort of holes the bombs made.  I don’t know that it would be terrible healthy to stay down there – I’ll see about that later.

Cripes I’m missing you honey.  Am really looking forward to getting home.  This life of celibacy is not what it’s cracked up to be.  You’re in for a torrid time my chicabiddy when the bronzed old boy gets back.  I don’t know that you’ll go much on my colour/pattern – I’m getting browned as far as the waist only, from there down snow white takes over.  Have been letting my mo grow a pace – perhaps you should buy me a moustache cup.

How are the Watson family coming along?  How’s the concrete idiot child?  And Bib & Bub?

Very quiet night – we are all sitting round like little goody boys – all writing to our dearests and sweetests.  All of which refers me back to wimmimck(?)  How’s Tommy’s Art for arts(?) sake?  Has he had the animated Selina out again?  Did you see her stripped – is she still much the same?

Sunday morning [15 JAug 1943] before breakfast

I get up early – as a rule before the sun.  The night passed off without incident which is all very well.

Called at a Sergeants’ tent before going to bed.  They were all on the jungle juice – a potent and horrible brew of their own manufacture made out of anything they can lay their hands on – prunes, dried fruits – potato peelings, jam – sugar & old boots, topped off with a liberal dose of yeast.  It looks like milk bar washing up water and tastes and smells like old yeast.  It is alleged to turn the mildest of men into maniacal dervishes.  I didn’t have any.  The conversation was still on the dames and what they would do to them on return to the flesh pots of our fair city in the south.

That’s all for the moment, dear Willie is signing off.  Get your squeezing muscles ready my sweet for the old boy won’t be long now. (I hope!)  Love in bundles for Jessie.

Bill

Answers:

No 1.   I live in tents – i.e. at different places – not in tents at one time.

No 2.   A pilot wrote that on your letter – he was in his cups – I’ll decipher it for you later.

[*Note: Four raids occurred on the night of Friday 13th August and the early hours of Saturday morning. They were aimed at Hughes Airfield, Fenton airfield (9:45pm), Fenton & Coomalie Creek airfields (11:12pm) and Long airfield in the early hours of Saturday 14th August (Dunn, P 2013, Japanese Air Raids in Australia During WW2, Australia@War, viewed 14 August 2013, <http://www.ozatwar.com/bomboz.htm>). The raid which Wep refers to was most likely the attack at 11:12pm on Fenton and Coomalie Creek where he had been staying two nights earlier.]

afield2 from ozatwar
Fighter guide map of airfields near Darwin (from Peter Dunn’s Australia@War). Wep was probably camped just north of Manton Dam near Hughes airfield which had Spitfires along with Strauss and Livingstone airfields.

War Letters – NW Australia: 4 Aug 1943, Strauss Airfield; With the boys of a Spitfire squadron

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
Army Post Office
Darwin
Wednesday
[4 Aug 1943]

Dear Jess,

Been quite an exhausting day.  Plenty hot and plenty weak.  However I pulled my gizzard up & got stuck into the work of drawing some fighter planes.  They’re sleek jobs and surprisingly small.  You don’t get much idea of their performance when seen on duty flights around this district.  Rarely are they flown flat out except in combat.  After seeing them on the ground dirty dented & camouflaged you’d think they weren’t worth a plateful of cold tapioca pudding.  But the boys like them.

The pilots are all hellishly young.  The average age being about 22.  The Squadron leader looks youngest of all like a bit of a school kid.  They have all had English experience & are a good bright lot.  I get along very well with them as they are friendly & informal.  The binge last night served well in breaking the ice.  Almost all were as full as bulls.  Incidently none of the crowd seem to like the journalists much.  Being an artist makes everything so much easier.  Tell Tommy there is a bit of a hoon up here – name of Pilot Officer Larry Alderson – says he knew him well in N.G.  Gloria’s husband Flight Loot Newton isn’t a bad sort of bloke – Looks after me well. [Believed to be John Sefton Newton and Gloria Olga Newton (nee Metchkoff Larsen, m 1943] I still haven’t managed to buy anyone a drink.  One is not allowed to – they insist on my being a guest.  A big crowd of bomber pilots were also down last night.  The film was fast & furious.

There’s some blasted thing I should tell you but for the life of me I can’t remember it.  Guess it’ll come later.

Yes! I’ve got it!  Do you recollect the air force medical officers at that party of Tilly’s at which Bill Brindle & his wife were present.  One of the crowd from up the road turned out to be one of them.  He is now a Wing Commander.  He was then a Fl. Lieutenant so he’s managed to step up very nicely.

Flash – last night two of the pilots after a sufficient steeping in the fiery juices set off on journey back to tent.  One – hopelessly lost curled up on the floor of a brother officers tent.  The other made the grade & work about an hour later with the tent in flames around him.  Much hilarity whilst domicile was razed to the ground.

May be off to see “In which we serve” tonight – that is – if I don’t get sucked into the alcoholic vortex which is apparently about tom swirl any tick of the clock.

I’m still not 100%.

It doesn’t look as if I’ll be down by the 24th.  You will probably forgive me but it would be best for me not to dash down without properly doing the place over.  I’d love to be there.  However have a good dinner.  Get that or the other casserole or what ever you like – go to £20.  With love from your devoted, Willie.

Thursday [5 Aug 1943]

Bad show I didn’t mail the above pages this morning.  I went up to the strip with a crowd of pilots at 6.30am and arrived by at 4pm.  Consequently missed the bus, I mean the mail.

This blarsted country is full of things wot bite.  Between the heat & the wogs I’m as knobbly as a mills bomb.

All day the fighter lads lounge about inside their dispersal hut (near the ‘drome) in attitudes crooked but horizontal.

So

29

There they remain, with but slight variation waiting for the call to arms.  One morning early at least 4 of them were asleep when an alert came over.  Like trains through a station they were off & in the air.  Fortunately the aircraft responsible for the alarm was identified as friendly.

The weather seems to be getting hotter.  Myself more enervated.  Sweat rolls off me – thirsty ants swim up my cascading body & quaff the salty juices.  Beaut-O!

There’s been quite a lot of feeling that it’s near time the yellow men come over.  They sunk a ship a few days ago & have been fairly active.  A couple of months have passed since they did anything and the fighter lads are anxious to have a crack at them to relieve the boredom.

Hope Harold Coy has been behaving. [Harold and Bassie Coy ran the Hotel Hunters Hill, a favoured drinking spot of Wep and Jess.] Also the damned old Ponty.  You poor darling I dare say Jane has been giving you the real works.  Is Tommy up north indefinitely?

Hope Dossie’s little girl doesn’t have 6 tits – it’ll be awful hard to find a beau with 6 hands.

Some bear bandit or other has got down on my bottle whilst Iwas away.  That’s the sort of thing that leads to lynching in this h’yar country.  You can as King from me – Where is the Ethics Committee of the A.J.A?  What are they doing about it all?  When are they going to send a missionary up here?

That there smudge is sweat.

Which reminds me you mentioned Turkish Baths. Haven’t you had any?  Why don’t you go away somewhere for a couple of weeks?  It’s getting right hot, mu chickadee.  I’m afraid this climate would suit you down to the ground.  I can’t see how one could stay very flat what with all this here perspiring going on.

Don’t get too morbid, honey.  It won’t be long before I’m home.  How’s the houses for sale?  Why don’t you go around and have a look at a few just to get an idea of value, etc.  I can’t think of anything for the flairs.

When its winter
Way down yonder
It’s a pint’er
Beer I ponder
And a bit er bread
An’ butter an’ a sponge

Which reminds me how’s frige behaving?

30Lots of love from yours meltingly,

Willie.

[On top of 1st page is a note written by another person]

Hello Jess you beautiful thing I love you despite all absences(?).

Yours

Q?ies(?) x [indecipherable]

That goes for me too

Willie

Spitfire maintenance
Spitfire maintenance
Spitfire maintenance
Spitfire maintenance
Most likely Strauss airfield near Noonamah, Northern Territory
Most likely Strauss airfield near Noonamah, Northern Territory
24 x 18 cm
Spitfire
33 x 21 cm
Spitfires
33 x 21 cm
Spitfire
33 x 21 cm
Spitfire
24 x 18 cm
Spitfire, most likely at Strauss Airfield near Noonamah, Northern Territory
Spitfire
Spitfire
Clive (Killer) Caldwell's Spitfire, CR-C, A58-484; Aug 1943
Clive (Killer) Caldwell’s Spitfire, CR-C, A58-484; Aug 1943
Spitfire
Spitfire

1 NW Australia - 6 Fighter Base-80 1 NW Australia - 6 Fighter Base-81 1 NW Australia - 6 Fighter Base-82 21 x 11 cm 21 x 11 cm 21 x 11 cmDispersal Room

Dispersal Room
Dispersal Room
Dispersal Room
Dispersal Room
Dispersal Room
Dispersal Room
Snooze in the sun for a weary pilot
Snooze in the sun for a weary pilot, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 20 Nov 1943, p9

24 x 18 cm 24 x 18 cm 33 x 21 cm 33 x 21 cm

 

Possibly Clive (Killer) Caldwell 24 x 18 cm 24 x 18 cm 24 x 18 cm

 

 

 

 

 

War Letters – NW Australia: 2 Aug 1943, Darwin; Reviewing the N.W. Navy

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
Army Post Office
Darwin
Monday night
[2 Aug 1943]

Dear Jesso,

I may as well carry on with the news concluded by the letter I posted you by today’s mail.  As I’m going down the road tomorrow I won’t be writing.  This letter will serve that day’s purpose as it won’t get away from here until then.  This week I am staying with a fighter squadron under the command of Caldwell – shall probably meet Flutter eye Gloria’s husband – I believe he is with the same bunch.

Thanks for thinking about my lack of amenities.  I’m running somewhat short – only 24 large packets left.

I hope Tommy got as much out of his drawing as he hoped for.  Selina is dopey alright.  Are you still getting plenty of steak over there?

The thing has started off again – Gawd help us!  Tap-tap-tap-BLOODY TAP!  This will be damn short – I get into such a helluva bate (?).  It’s worse than being in a machine gun nest with all guns firing and hailstones beating on my tin hat.  I’m not deaf enough to take it – Tap – tap – taP – tAP – TAP TAPTAP! – and so on.

I’ll write you tomorrow some time – or else wait till the bastards go to bed.  Up’em!

[3 Aug 1943]

Next morning – Much quieter – I am by far the earliest bird up here, all of which doesn’t help catch the non existent worms, but it’s plumb peaceful like.  Inside, spines are slowly being zipped into action, razors being flapped, and kidneys drained in preparation for a general exodus down the road in the wake of the Governor-General who has begun his tour of inspection.

24 x 18 cm

Yesterday he reviewed the N.W. navy such as it was.  We got out onto the flagship & under panicky directions of some naval lieut. allowed ourselves to be hid behind pipes, vents, doors, etc so that the G.G.’s august vision would not be defiled by the sight of the lowly non-combatant press correspondents.  It was wretched farce – the boys have wiped the navy or so they say.  Seems more like to me the navy doesn’t care about the press.  The review of passing ships was catastrophic.  Some of the old tubs couldn’t make any speed against the out-running tide, with the unhappy consequent cancellation of part of the programme.

The tide, by the way, has a rise & fall of 20 ft and as the approaches to the land here are very shallow the water when it gets a move on races like one thing.  In the harbour I believe it does about 5-6 knots and in the creeks about 10.  I’ve seen it coming in on the creeks – it moves alright.  The harbour is a big one with an average width & foreshores much like Botany Bay.  Because of its lack of depth the water is quite green.  Here and there the side of a sunken ship rises up.  Somewhere else the masts & funnel of another stick forlornly & ridiculously out to provide parking stations for the few sea birds to be seen in these parts.

Will have to leave now – have had breakfast the all are ready for the trip.

Mail came in & I have just got another of your letters – you beaut.  Haven’t read it yet – lots of love honey – look after yourself for Willie.

Possibly Darwin Harbour
Possibly Darwin Harbour
[Bomb damaged Destroyer in harbour]
Possibly a bomb damaged Destroyer in harbour

24 x 18 cm 24 x 18 cm 21 x 11 cm 24 x 18 cm 24 x 18 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

War Letters – NW Australia: 23 July 1943, Darwin; Back to base and noisy correspondents

W.E.Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
Army Post Office
Darwin
Friday
[23 Jul 1943]

 

Darling,

Am back again to the old home comforts.  There are only 4 correspondents here at the moment, thank heavens.  But those at present here are damned voluble – voceriferously arguing the toss on world social system.  I’m too weak to join in.  The mob down the road had a formal mess last night (as they go once a week) this seemed – or rather did – get away on us all.  After beer and sherry – we settled down to some steady gin drinking.  Unfortunately liquor has immediate and body shattering effect.  Hangovers are pretty shaking in this here territory.

Last two nights have been plenty cold.  To my sorry I had taken only 2 blankets with me.  One to sleep on & the other to cover me.  Not enough – your sweet hubby was always glad to see the dawn as most of the night I just lay and shivered.

This is a bugger of a place to write letters.  One cannot continue a line of thought.  Willy nilly the conversation about obtrudes.

Haven’t had any letters from you yet.  What gibes?  Too much social life?  Am anticipating one tomorrow.  I’ll break down & cry or go plumb “Troppo”.

Sorry to say that I’m too tired to write much tonight.  I’d like to be home at the moment lying in my beauto bed reading a thriller-diller.  Or just lying, yes?  Are you being my good little sweet model wifie?  Has Tommy gone north yet?

Lots of love and special juicy kisses.  Save ‘em all up for me.  No giving any away –

Goodnight sweet heart –

Bill

 

5 minutes later

I cannot leave you so.  How’s Ellie? Hours?  My new nephew?  Has Sally conceived?  Noticed in our local daily paper (printed by the army) that another Telegraph correspondent Osmar White has stopped it.

33

Farewell again.  Relapse has hold of me – Pray for my liver my sweet.  Tell King I got his little note.  Is Cyril happy?  Are you minding Tony & Pussy yet?

32

Spose I’d better write to the boys.

Am back in D.

no letters!!!!!
in a week!!!!

naughty Jessie

 

Later edition.

Things have quietened down.  One still smashes the noise box, another silently struggles with a game of patience.

43

(This is all very rough I’m saving myself up for the grand effort I on at present here.)

After next week I start on the air force – then may be something on the navy.

Blarsted sandflies are like pneumatic suckers & the mosquitos like blarsted bombers.

More love

Bill

 

(am feeling plenty sunburnt right now!)

Bill.

 

Have lost cig. lighter twice.
Have found cig. lighter twice after lapse of two days.
No grilled steak here.
Tea like stewed treacle.
Out of the mouths of babes & sucklings we had large helpings of prunes today.
No more

44

Love again

Bill.