War Letters – New Guinea: 10 Feb 1944, Townsville; Killing time waiting

W.E. Pidgeon
C/o P.R. Unit
7 Murray St.
Stanton Hill
Townsville

Thurs. 10th
[10 February 1944]

Darling,

As you can see by the letter head I am back on the mainland, killing time while I wait for transport up to Cairns.1Permission had been granted for Wep to travel to the Atherton Tableland where he would make some sketches of several recipients of the Military Medal  In all probability I shall be home in a week’s time.  Have a nice steak in the house – and a cold bottle of course.

Will you please send me a page, or about 20 clothing coupons.  Do not send the book as the Officer’s shop will accept loose coupons.  I want to buy a pair of shoes they are very good and only 25/-.  Post them as soon as you get this letter for I shall only be about 3 or 4 days up north.  Shall then try and get home on the flying boat which gets to Sydney about 5 o’clock which, I hope, will just give us time to dash off a quick one at Coy’s.2Harold and Bassie Coy ran the Hotel Hunters Hill, a favoured drinking spot of Wep and Jess.

How are all the parlour geese there?  Can Molly3Molly Turton get through the swing doors now?  Got any home brew?

Had a fine trip down from the island.  Left at four on a slightly cloudy but moonlight morning and arrived here at 7.30 am.  That’s good going.  The dawn was really magnificent coming on while we were flying above the great cumulus clouds.  The effect was brilliantly violent.  It was a Superman sunrise.

Have struck Bill Marien4Bill Marien was a former colleague of Wep’s at the Daily Telegraph and was now an Official War Correspondent working for the ABC., who, by the way, is married to that girl and has a kid about 18 month’s old.  We had dinner at the Officer’s Club5Hotel Seaview on The Strand and a quantity to drink.  It affected me poorly and I am now happily feeling the retirement of the ragged hangover that accompanied my awakening.  The rest of my time has been spent dismally sitting on my bum and gloomily reading old Lifes, Reader’s Digests, Mans and other sundry publications.

Have just heard that I will be moving off tomorrow.

If you happen to be going to town will you pop into Moore’s Bookshop next the Criterion Hotel and ask if they have a copy of the cheap edition of Laurence’s (sic)6T.E. Lawrence Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  Also can you get me, at any bookstore a copy of Cleanliness and Godliness by Reginald Reynolds?

Have only had one letter from you so that if you have happened to send others I must presume their demise in the Jungle Hells of NG.

Nothing else of interest at the moment.  So accept my utmost adoration.  Your devoted willie.

 

[It is most probable that Bill visited the Atherton Tablelands on Saturday, February 12 where he sketched several men who had recently been awarded the Military Medal. They were Sgt Wyatt, Sgt. Marney and Pte. N. Blundell.7Details of the incidents that earned these men the MM are available from James Parker’s site, Teller of Yarns – William Edwin Pidgeon: Sketching Battles of WWII. (2024, January 19). Retrieved from https://www.tellerofyarns.com/post/william-edwin-pidgeon-sketching-battles-of-wwii Afterwards Wep hitched a ride with Major C.H. Cheong, editor of the Army newspaper ‘Table Tops’ who drove him to Cairns. It is estimated that he made it home by Thursday, 17 February 1944.]

Sgt. Arthur James Wyatt, MM
Sgt. Ray McDonald Marney, MM
Pte. Neville Blundell, MM

Notes:

  • 1
    Permission had been granted for Wep to travel to the Atherton Tableland where he would make some sketches of several recipients of the Military Medal
  • 2
    Harold and Bassie Coy ran the Hotel Hunters Hill, a favoured drinking spot of Wep and Jess.
  • 3
    Molly Turton
  • 4
    Bill Marien was a former colleague of Wep’s at the Daily Telegraph and was now an Official War Correspondent working for the ABC.
  • 5
    Hotel Seaview on The Strand
  • 6
    T.E. Lawrence
  • 7
    Details of the incidents that earned these men the MM are available from James Parker’s site, Teller of Yarns – William Edwin Pidgeon: Sketching Battles of WWII. (2024, January 19). Retrieved from https://www.tellerofyarns.com/post/william-edwin-pidgeon-sketching-battles-of-wwii

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: 1-2 Feb 1944; Ramu Valley, 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 [1944]

Sweetheart,

Advanced Dressing Station, Guy’s Post, New Guinea

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.

W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work in the Upper Ramu Valley, Papua New Guinea – Published in The Australian Women’s Weekly, 18 March 1944, p9 – The watercolour sketch appears to be the preliminary layout for Evacuating Wounded – Ramu Valley

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.

Study for Evacuating wounded-Ramu Valley

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.

W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) takes time for a cuppa on a ridge line in the Upper Ramu Valley, Papua New Guinea

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 Martin1Pvt. Harold Lloyd Martin known as Lloyd, Service Number – NX96972, 2/2nd Aust. Pioneer Bn 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 sister2Mrs Joyce Elizabeth Farrar (nee Martin), Flat 1, 103 Northwood Road, Northwood saying that I was on my way.  The family resemblance is unmistakeable.

Unidentified War Correspondent, possibly a photographer, joins Wep in a a cuppa on a ridge line in the Upper Ramu Valley, Papua New Guinea

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 boong3Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels were native Papua New Guineans who assisted the Australian war effort. They carried stretchers, stores and sometimes wounded diggers directly on their shoulders over some of the toughest terrain in the world. – Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. (2024, January 17). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_Wuzzy_Angels 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.

A native Fuzzy Wuzzy in the Upper Ramu Valley, Papua New Guinea

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

Evacuating Wounded-Ramu Valley, New Guinea
W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work in the Upper Ramu Valley, Papua New Guinea
W.E. Pidgeon (WEP) at work in the Upper Ramu Valley, Papua New Guinea

Wed.  Feb 2 6.30 pm.

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!

Knee operation at an Advanced Dressing Station at Guy’s Post in the upper Ramu Valley, New Guinea

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.

Shaggy Ridge, Ramu Valley, Papua New Guinea

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).

Study – On Shaggy Ridge, looking across to the Pimple, 5600 feet above sea level, dominating the Ramu Valley, New Guinea

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.

Study for Ascending the Pimple

Don’t think I’ll write anything more tonight darling.  Am feeling too depressingly tired.  Keep a couple of gals4Gallons of petrol 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

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 – Reproduced, The Australian Women’s Weekly, June 10, 1944, p40
Ascending the Pimple – Reproduced, The Australian Women’s Weekly, June 10, 1944, p40

Notes:

  • 1
    Pvt. Harold Lloyd Martin known as Lloyd, Service Number – NX96972, 2/2nd Aust. Pioneer Bn
  • 2
    Mrs Joyce Elizabeth Farrar (nee Martin), Flat 1, 103 Northwood Road, Northwood
  • 3
    Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels were native Papua New Guineans who assisted the Australian war effort. They carried stretchers, stores and sometimes wounded diggers directly on their shoulders over some of the toughest terrain in the world. – Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. (2024, January 17). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_Wuzzy_Angels
  • 4
    Gallons of petrol

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 Tommy1Frederick Thomas 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 place I’ve ever seen.  The brilliant green kunai 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.

US Army Douglas C47 transport plane, 3 Sep 1942 – PASSED BY CENSOR. PHOTO NO. 13170. ISSUED BY DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA. TROOPS IN NEW GUINEA PLACE CONSIDERABLE RELIANCE UPON THE AIR TRANSPORT SERVICE FROM THE MAINLAND WHICH PLAYS A BIG PART IN KEEPING THEM SUPPLIED WITH NECESSARY STORES. AIRCRAFT OF A TYPE USED ON COMMERCIAL ROUTES IN AMERICA ARE EMPLOYED IN THESE NEW GUINEA OPERATIONS, AND PILOTS ARE DRAWN FROM U.S. ARMY AND R.A.A.F. PERSONNEL. STORES ARE TRANSPORTED FROM THE MAINLAND. A transport aircraft arriving from the mainland at one of the New Guinea bases. The arrival of these aircraft is the occasion of much excitement among the local natives. See also https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C32644

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 road2Mrs Joyce Elizabeth Farrar (nee Martin), Flat 1, 103 Northwood Road, Northwood, you can tell her that I have nearly met her brother.3Pvt. Harold Lloyd Martin known as Lloyd, Service Number – NX96972, 2/2nd Aust. Pioneer Bn  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 at Guy’s Post in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Native huts near a field hospital at Guy’s Post in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea

Notes:

  • 1
    Frederick Thomas O’Dea
  • 2
    Mrs Joyce Elizabeth Farrar (nee Martin), Flat 1, 103 Northwood Road, Northwood
  • 3
    Pvt. Harold Lloyd Martin known as Lloyd, Service Number – NX96972, 2/2nd Aust. Pioneer Bn

War Letters – New Guinea: 29 Jan 1944, Finschhafen; Scarlet Beach, Field hospital

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O PR Unit
N. G. Force
Moresby

Sat 29th [Jan 1944]

Dear Jesso,

Have just returned to our Canvas Palace after an arty evening under the stars, vines, clouds and fire flies listening to highbrow music as dispensed by some amiable sergeant for the benefit of the boys.  It was very pleasant – cool too, for a change.  We’re not asleep I bent my wandering brain to appreciation of the note.

12

We returned with the help of fireflies to where Hodgkinson promptly lies down “dreaming my love of thee,” The bastard’s bats!

Am moving out tomorrow on my way to the upper end of Ramu Valley.  Should be able to get the best of possible stuff up there.  Seems a year since I left home – all recollections of the lawn mowing week are vague and almost remote. I’ve packed so much into my popping eyes in the last fortnight.  Roy will be staying on down here completing his magnus opus.  I shall probably meet Dargie1Captain William Dargie. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P65046 up there.  Which reminds me I saw a par. in “Guinea Gold” (the soldiers’ paper) that there has been a wonderful stink about the Archibald Prize award.  Nothing like a lively bout between artists.2The 1944 prize was awarded to William Dobell with a portrait of Joshua Smith which was being challenged in court as not a portrait but a caricature. The award to Dobell was eventually upheld. Wep made a famous cartoon of the court scene during the trial.

Casualty Clearing Station at Heldsbach Mission near Scarlet Beach in the Finshhafen area, New Guinea

Went over to a field hospital3Believed to be the 2/3rd Casualty Clearing Station situated at the Heldsbach Mission about 1 mile from Scarlet Beach today but didn’t get much out of it – most of those places are all the same.

Dental examination at a Field Hospital near Scarlet Beach in the Finschhafen area, New Guinea

Managed to make a note of the dental corner.  A picture of a soldier getting his teeth drilled may strike a sympathetic chord in the Weekly’s readers.  Undoubtedly the most momentous occasion of the day was the decent shower I had up there.  It was the first time I have had a proper wash since arriving in this area – Boy!  Was it good. – For ½ hour anyway.  After that I was as sweaty as ever.

I may be able to settle down to a better letter when I have this Tower of Babble.  In the other areas I shall probably be alone.

Will write you in a couple of days – all my love darling.

Not too much hops, mark you and feet up.  Regards to all More love from Willie

(written on side)

Enclosed petals look like hibiscus but are off a tree nothing like.  It was apricot colour when I picked it.  There’s a brilliant blue butterfly floating round dis ‘ere camp.

Medical inspection tent, near Finschhafen, New Guinea
Medical Inspection, Finschhafen, New Guinea
Casualty Clearing Station at Heldsbach Mission near Scarlet Beach in the Finshhafen area, New Guinea

Casualty Clearing Station at Heldsbach Mission near Scarlet Beach in the Finshhafen area, New Guinea

 

 

Notes:

  • 1
    Captain William Dargie. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P65046
  • 2
    The 1944 prize was awarded to William Dobell with a portrait of Joshua Smith which was being challenged in court as not a portrait but a caricature. The award to Dobell was eventually upheld. Wep made a famous cartoon of the court scene during the trial.
  • 3
    Believed to be the 2/3rd Casualty Clearing Station situated at the Heldsbach Mission about 1 mile from Scarlet Beach

War Letters – New Guinea: 28 Jan 1944, Finschhafen; Scarlet Beach, on the nose

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O P.R. Unit
N. G. Forces
Moresby

28th Frid
[28 Jan 1944]

Darling,

We have another lamp – scrounged from the same poor simple soul from whom we borrowed the remains of last night’s signal lamp.

Roy sits opposite writing his new sweetie (brunette & beautiful and with husband in internment camp) and punctuating the oppressing stillness of the night with requests regarding the correctitude of his spelling.  The old garrulity with less physical actions.  He writes like he talks – it pours out of him, pages flash past on the blink of an eye.

I haven’t had a clean shirt on since I hit Finschhafen.  The one I wear at present has the odour & appearance of a tarpaulin from one of Gearin O’Riordan’s trucks.  The other is still wet from its rinsing in a creek down by the beach.  Although I am as pleasant a little nosegay as one would find in many a week.  A European Gorgonzola would walk away from me with a peg on its snout.

19

Now that the lamp is here I find myself regretting not having brought that New Testament with me as with its kindly simplicity I could have killed a few hours before sealing myself up in the meat safe up yonder bank.

You have guessed, I hope my uninspiring letters are due to the overwhelming enervation of the tropics plus the lack of comfort in the tent.  I’m sitting on an oil drum with grinds of flesh off my behind, my eyes are full of coral dust – I’m due to start turning yellow from surfeit of Atabrin tablets (to suppress malarial infection) from neglect of taking salt tablets which they say are necessary to counteract the excessive loss of bodily salt in sweat, and God knows what else. The half if me that is alive is tolerably happy.

I don’t know particularly what to draw as under the present conditions camp life is practically synonymous with that in the N.T. Make it all green & the jobs done.

Went about 8 miles down the Road this afternoon1Most likely this was to Sattelburg where Wep sketched VC winner, Sgt, Tom (Diver) Derrick who won his VC at the Battle of Sattelburg. Battle of Sattelberg. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Sattelberg – hitch hiked in half a dozen different trucks.  May just have well flown as I was in the air at least half the time.

4

Sgt. T.C. (Diver) Derrick, V.C., D.C.M. – From a sketch made at Scarlet Beach, New Guinea by our artist, W.E. Pidgeon; The Australian Women’s Weekly, 13 May 1944, p1

I forgot to give you a rough idea of what I look like in jungle green & American garters.  Of course the Japs just flee squealing for the son of Heaven at such an apparition.

5

In front of me is a picture reconstruction of a beach landing for official War Artist Cpt R C Hodgkinson Military History Section.

6

The light is going out for want of kerosene.  Bugger me – this is the sort of thing that slays one!  I can just see you now.  Everything is going black – it’s quite black now.

Later – we have managed to get some more kerosene, whacko the diddle-o!  I’m not smelling any better – even the skunks are moving out.  I don’t’ mind that so much but I seem to be bringing in the flies.  Soon I shall thwart them in my little meat safe.

7

Am putting off going to the blarsted hammock.  12 hours of posing in various uncomfortable postures is much too much of a good thing even for a body like mine – “booful hunk of a man! These are the basic positions.

8

Notes:

  • 1
    Most likely this was to Sattelburg where Wep sketched VC winner, Sgt, Tom (Diver) Derrick who won his VC at the Battle of Sattelburg. Battle of Sattelberg. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Sattelberg

War Letters – New Guinea: 27 Jan 1944, Finschhafen; Scarlet Beach and an afternoon swim

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O P.R. Unit
N. G. Forces
Moresby

Thurs 27th Jan [1944]

Darling,

Am writing by a 1 candle power lamp which as the mood suits the letter may be changed to cast either red, green or white light.  Green is the color called for but unfortunately its illuminative qualities are quite on the blink.

Red is not helpful.

Roy H is under his mosquito net growling about things in general and about the job he is on in particular.  He has to reconstruct a beach landing made here a couple of months ago. Not the best of jobs in the world with the extremely limited facilities available.  He has just yelled out his regards to you.  Alice comes in for a lit of cracks – appears she had all sorts of affairs.  Roy laughs a lot about it all.  Says she is stinking to the girl he now takes out.

Today is about the first time I have felt human since I arrived.  Possibly because I have done a bit of modest work and am settled down for a few days.  Am going round to the Casualty Clearing Station to see if there is anything of interest for the Weekly.  Should be because the nurses there are closer to the front lines than any others.  Did I tell you I travelled from Moresby in the plane with them?  Fifteen there were, and no beauties amongst them.  After that off to the Ramu Valley.

Sketch study for ‘Barges and Swimmers’ depicting Australian troops sun bathing and swimming off two wrecked Japanese barges at Scarlet Beach near Finschhafen, New Guinea

We had a swim this afternoon – it was delightful.  Crystal water – cool, refreshing.  Bombers going Japwards overhead.  Lots of lads in the water & on the beach. We’re getting pretty sick of the sight of bare bums & privates.

Barges and Swimmers – Depicting Australian troops sun bathing and swimming off two wrecked Japanese barges at Scarlet Beach near Finschhafen, New Guinea
Censorship Pass Expires 2/12/43.
Passed by Operational Censor.
Photo No. 16063. Issued by Department of Information, Commonwealth of Australia.
New Guinea. Finschhafen Area. 37 dead Japanese were counted in these two wrecked barges at Scarlet Beach.

Friday morning [28 Jan 1944]

Disaster overtook this letter last night.  Roy had borrowed this lamp I spoke of above from the Signallers – they implored him to look after it.  At the above stage of my letter the bloody thing caught fire & I couldn’t for the life of me blow it out.  All my puffing & blowing served to feed the flames turning the whole gazaboo into the finest of blow lamps.  The solder melted reflector and handle fell off – flaming kerosene spilled on Roy’s drawing board – he was in a panic for his work – I was busy shovelling sand (rather mud) over the blaze.

The lamps was a sorry sight.  We laughed ourselves sick.  Must have done me good for I slept till 6am.

Lots of love darling – Taking it easy?

Bill.

War Letters – New Guinea: 24-25 Jan 1944, Kelanoa; Patrol, Sio and Barge off Fortification Point

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O Public Relations
N. G. Force
Moresby

Monday
[24 Jan 1944]

Darling,

I was going to write to you last night but learnt on returning to the tent that a black out is enforced  up here – the Japs planes occasionally fly over so it seems.  Some went over last night I was told – but I didn’t hear them being dead to the world.  I went to bed when it was dark and didn’t wake until dawn.  My God I was tired – I had been awake travelling half the previous night1Barge trip from Finschhafen to Kelanoa on Saturday 22nd.

The balmy surrounding of the beach on which I sit are poppingly disturbed by the exuberant troops who punctuate the silence with machine gun bursts and rifle fire.  Not that they are shooting at anything – they just like hearing them go off.

I’m tired and dirty.  I’ve lost the only towel I brought up here with me.  There is no fresh water to bathe in – I’m as sticky as a stamp with accumulations of salt, seawater & salt sweat.  I should taste good!  Especially as I dry myself after a dip with my underpants – adds just that Parfait de Nuit touch!

I have been as far as Sio on the northern coast.  Went on a barge with three other PR people who are in effect somewhat irresponsible.  They missed the barge back to where we are at present.  Although I must say it was only a fluke that I happened to catch it.  I am glad that I didn’t have to spend a night up there. A dismal spot.

Sketch study for ‘Patrol, Sio’, New Guinea
Patrol, Sio

Most of these jungles stink of decaying vegetation & have that dank warmth of a mulch heap to help one along.  Beautiful and lavish enough they may be, with a kind of monsteria deliciosa vine winding up the trees, and a dozen other types ….ed from the branches.  Not so many birds.  A few butterflies & a bloody lot of mosquitoes.  Not the healthiest spots to live in under normal circumstances but the necessities of obtaining cover makes it almost imperative for the troops.

Passed by Operational Censor SWPA Photo No. MNG 893 New Guinea – A bomb scarred area at Sio with troops encamped close to a bomb crater which was quickly filled with water following heavy rain.
25 pounder artillery guns, most likeey near Sio on the north east coast of New Guinea
Believed to be Sio Bogadjim area, Huon Peninsula, New Guinea. Depicts five unidentified Australian soldiers involved in jungle operations, members of the Royal Australian Artillery, 2/14th Australian Field Regiment with a 25 pounder gun.
Sio Bogadjim area, Huon Peninsula, New Guinea. Depicts a 25 pounder gun of the Royal Australian Artillery, 2/14th Australian Field Regiment.

3 pm Tuesday [25 Jan 1944]

Fortification Point near Scarlet Beach, Finschhafen area, New Guinea
Troops in a barge off Fortification Point in transit from Kelanoa to Scarlet Beach, Finschhafen area, New Guinea

Been travelling since 9 am have just landed at another point & am prostrate wit de heat.2Moved out by barge from Kelanoa back south to Scarlet Beach in the Finschhafen area.

Sketch study for ‘Barge off Fortification Point’
Barge off Fortification Point; reproduced The Australian Women’s Weekly, 10 June 1944, p41 – Men of the 9th AIF Division relax on board a barge as it rounds Fortification Point, on its way to Finschafen, Huon Peninsular. They are returning from Kelanoa tired, but with every reason to feel satisfied with the job done. Kelanoa was then a forward area, and Wep’s brush portrays brilliantly the men’s infinite weariness and their unfailing cheerfulness. They are all looking forward to their return to the base. – Art Gallery of New South Wales collection

These dirty marks on this page are sweat decorations.  As there are a lot of lads writing letters in the YMCA hut I thought it best to get it best to get away pronto.

I’ll write you again tonight.  A few bombs were dropped down this way a few days ago.   Nothing happened however.  I guess I’m ½ stone lighter.  It’s no question that you (sic) ole man is melting down to a soup pot of unfunny stew.

Lots of love from Willie.

Don’t worry about sending letters they will never catch up with me.

Have just bumped into Roy H. again.  He is at the camp I am now in.  Calls himself the “Erl King” (translates into the oil paint king).

More love.

 

Notes:

  • 1
    Barge trip from Finschhafen to Kelanoa on Saturday 22nd
  • 2
    Moved out by barge from Kelanoa back south to Scarlet Beach in the Finschhafen area.

War Letters – New Guinea: 22 Jan 1944, Finschhafen; Waiting to depart for Kelanoa

W.E. Pidgeon
(War Correspondent)
C/O DPR
New Guinea Force
Moresby

22nd Jan 44

Darling,

I am writing this in a blooming outpost of the empire – an outpost consisting of a small tent with one table, blanketed, & draped with the cooling form of your dear husband.  He has steamed off & for the first time since arrival is sitting quietly & is tolerably happy.

Camp near Finschhafen, New Guinea

He has bathed in the placid waters of the Finschhafen area, has aired his body in the cool tropical breeze and has sat on damned shape coral.  With bended neck has gaped at clustered coconuts fifty feet above him – he has carefully avoided standing under them as fractured skulls are collected that there way.

Interior of tranpsort plane at dawn, Townsville to New Guinea, January 1944

Landed at Lae on the way up.1Friday, 21st January 1944  You can tell Jane2Jess’s mother, Mary Jane Graham (nee Wray) that as far as I could see there wasn’t one house standing.  They have just plain disappeared.  It may have been a pleasant enough place in the good old days, but boy, the Air Forces have sure blasted all the charms & graces to high heaven.  The coconuts stick up stripped and shorn & about as long as a 3 weeks beard.

Army Post Office APO322, Base F, Finschhafen, New Guinea

It has turned out not so quiet – the Loot in charge of the business here is sitting opposite writing a letter – or should be.  But then I suppose he likes to talk to someone strange so we have been chatting for the last ¾ hour.  Consequently I have been dilatory & neglectful of the cultivation of that rather sweet just too too gentle mood into which I had been dissolving with the help of broadcast songs of Betty Grable from a YMCA hut across the way.  Of times I felt like bursting out into “Sing me a Song of the islands” what with the swarms of coconut palms (we are on the edge of a coconut grove plantation) and the lap-lap of the sea to egg me on.

Camp in coconut plantation near Finschhafen, New Guinea

This side of the island is TROPIC.  The hot sweet smell of rotting vegetation under the vine lining trees brings back to mind the typical orchid house.  But the orchids although they are not in flower, at least those I saw weren’t, Hibiscus are!  The whole shemozzle looks like a corner of the Botanical Gardens gone to fruit.

It doesn’t seem to be hot – it must be hot!  My shirt is stuck on my back like a stamp.  Yet I think the climate is good.  You’d love it for a holiday.  The sea is blue and syrupy as the barge I’m in cuts slowly through to its landing place.  Planes zip most zippily above.

This blarsted (sic) hurricane lamp is making my eyes smart.  My mind wanders whilst I most conscious of the static ache in my bum, brought about by the constant pressure of the tuberosities of the ischium upon the unresponsive board of a box of dehydrated potatoes.

I am writing whilst waiting to take off (not in a plane) on another leg of my journey3Wep was about to head off to Kelanoa by barge from Finschafen. Much of the trip was made at night of which I shall write you at more length when I find some place to settle down for a few nights.

You deserve more than a rough resume committed to paper in circumstances most undesirable.

So lots and lotzer what it takes from dear Willie.

Be good & don’t work
and don’t ____________
“     “     _______________        fill
“     “     _______________        in
“     “     _______________        as
“     “     _______________        required
“     “     _______________

love to you darling
Bill

The light has got me down.  I finish – to spend the rest of the night under the stars staring and sleeping.  You’ll understand what this is about later.

Goodnight & Sweet Dreams

??ou got the mosquitoes.
[parts missing off copy]

NOTE:

Volley Ball – The centre ball player is Acting Air Commodore (later Air Chief Marshall and Sir) Frederick Rudolph William Scherger, Commanding Officer RAAF No. 10 Operational Group based at Nadzab, Papua New Guinea, in support of the US Fifth Air Force.

It is believed that Wep spent a few hours painting at RAAF Number 10 Operational Group based at Nadzab near Lae. The painting featured a game of volley ball with one of the players noted as being Air Commodore (later Air Chief Marshall and Sir) Frederick Rudolph William Scherger, commander of No. 10 Group. This appears to be the only date where they could have crossed paths. No. 10 Group was later based at Morotai from June 1945 and Wep travelled there between June and August but it is yet to be determined whether their paths may have crossed there.

Wep sets up his painting gear, at RAAF No. 10 Operational Group
Wep painting “Volley Ball”, at RAAF No. 10 Operational Group near Nadzab, Papua New Guinea
Wep painting “Volley Ball”, at RAAF No. 10 Operational Group near Nadzab, Papua New Guinea
Wep painting “Volley Ball”, at RAAF No. 10 Operational Group near Nadzab, Papua New Guinea

Notes:

  • 1
    Friday, 21st January 1944
  • 2
    Jess’s mother, Mary Jane Graham (nee Wray)
  • 3
    Wep was about to head off to Kelanoa by barge from Finschafen. Much of the trip was made at night

War Letters – New Guinea: 20 Jan 1944, Port Moresby; Catching up with colleagues

Public Relations
Field Unit
HDQ
N.G. Force

20th Jan 44

Darling,

I am trying to write this in the correspondents dormitory.1Colloquially known as St Percy’s Seminary by the correspondents, it was situated at Headquarters, New Guinea Force in Four Mile Valley on the main road to Port Moresby – See FOUR MILE VALLEY, PAPUA, NEW GUINEA. 1944-01-02. A VIEW OF THE MAIN PORT MORESBY ROAD AT FOUR …. (2024, January 19). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C54321  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 Tommy2Frederick Thomas O’Dea was the former General Manager of Guinea Airways and life-long close friend of Wep’s. At the beginning of the war he joined the RAAF and flew in an out of remote areas in New Guinea with supplies but following a severe crash he was unable to fly again and transfrred to the RAN where with the rank of Lieutenant became a Naval Coastwatcher in New Guinea.3WABAG, NEW GUINEA. NATIVES SURROUND THE FIRST AEROPLANE TO LAND AT WABAG WITH SUPPLIES FOR THE …. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C2557734Myola 2, Papua, 1942-10-22. A crowd of Australian soldiers gathers around a Ford tri-motor …. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C3190565LAE, NEW GUINEA. 1944-06-02. VX65671 MAJOR J.T. TAYLOR, OFFICER- IN- CHARGE, NORTHERN ECHELON, …. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C64803 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 without infringing security regulations.  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 artist6Captain William Dargie. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P65046 called in on me yesterday & we passed the time of day.  Roy Hodgkinson7Captain Roy Cecil Hodgkinson. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P65080 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 Wilson8Austral Groves Wilson. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austral_Groves_Wilson9New Guinea. Private M. Daly of Bendigo, Vic, offers Miss Strella Wilson a mug of Army tea after …. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C238355 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.10Edwin Styles. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_Styles

Reg Harris who used to work in the office11Reg Harris was also a fomer Smith’s Weekly journalist and later press secretary to several Federal Ministers. has just stuck his head around the door & sends his regards to you & Petrovs12Geoff 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

Notes:

  • 1
    Colloquially known as St Percy’s Seminary by the correspondents, it was situated at Headquarters, New Guinea Force in Four Mile Valley on the main road to Port Moresby – See FOUR MILE VALLEY, PAPUA, NEW GUINEA. 1944-01-02. A VIEW OF THE MAIN PORT MORESBY ROAD AT FOUR …. (2024, January 19). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C54321
  • 2
    Frederick Thomas O’Dea was the former General Manager of Guinea Airways and life-long close friend of Wep’s. At the beginning of the war he joined the RAAF and flew in an out of remote areas in New Guinea with supplies but following a severe crash he was unable to fly again and transfrred to the RAN where with the rank of Lieutenant became a Naval Coastwatcher in New Guinea.
  • 3
    WABAG, NEW GUINEA. NATIVES SURROUND THE FIRST AEROPLANE TO LAND AT WABAG WITH SUPPLIES FOR THE …. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C255773
  • 4
    Myola 2, Papua, 1942-10-22. A crowd of Australian soldiers gathers around a Ford tri-motor …. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C319056
  • 5
    LAE, NEW GUINEA. 1944-06-02. VX65671 MAJOR J.T. TAYLOR, OFFICER- IN- CHARGE, NORTHERN ECHELON, …. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C64803
  • 6
    Captain William Dargie. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P65046
  • 7
    Captain Roy Cecil Hodgkinson. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P65080
  • 8
    Austral Groves Wilson. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austral_Groves_Wilson
  • 9
    New Guinea. Private M. Daly of Bendigo, Vic, offers Miss Strella Wilson a mug of Army tea after …. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C238355
  • 10
    Edwin Styles. (2024, January 16). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_Styles
  • 11
    Reg Harris was also a fomer Smith’s Weekly journalist and later press secretary to several Federal Ministers.
  • 12
    Geoff and Molly Turton
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