This is dedicated to two small boys and all the terrifying real people who used to live around the Five Ways. If some of the people mentioned are not as real as they should be – it is mostly my fault. I hope I have caused no offence to any one I may have mentioned – through the vapourising of the past they were all helpful in bringing me down to what I am today.
Wed 24-Oct-56: Wandered all round the shopping areas & saw Sacre-Coeur church in morning – went to Lido night club. Up very late.
Thu 25-Oct-56: Longchamp – went to Longchamp race course in afternoon & cooked Chinese grub in Roley’s flat in evening.
33 Rue St Augustin [33 Quai des Grands Augustins]
Wed or rather Thursday
The 25th Oct 1956
My very dear darling, I have made three attempts to write to you about the Tyrol which I think must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Each time I get started some interruption occurs & the Tyrol is up the spout. I can’t force myself to write about it – I love it too much – I will tell you on the 28th of November when you are in my arms, and there is no tensions anywhere in the world, and for the little while we have some appreciative peace. I want to tell you so much about it. I cannot write much when I am staying with people. Please forgive the aimless scrawl – I have put the drop in the eyes & am not seeing very well. – Plus the feet too [?]. I have been to the Ritzy-est nightclub in Paris which means anywhere. The story is too long. I was where I was, with an English photographer from the Daily Express & it cost plenty just to sit at the bar counter & look over the shoulders of those who paid more than real money. I do not forget my darling girl. You are my wife and I your husband and its very silly, and it’s also very true and there is not much that can be done about it expect think of each other. From the Lido we went down to the Market’s area where we had a couple of beers. For 7 hours I have been pounding the foot path and now, really couldn’t care less about the sight & hide of the dopes who look after them.
At this point your poor dear erring, but loving husband, took the knock. He had a lot to tell you, but was breathless, and too slow on the draw. All I want is for Roley to get his washing away from hanging over the bath, so that I can get some of mine into the same position. Me – I’ve been washing too! I got very loving towards you (not that I am not always in that state when I’m 12,000 miles away) because you are the earth I put my anchor into and you take it & have not to leave it. I think you are quite the nicest girl – and also, the most forgiving little bugger – in the whole of the southern hemisphere – and the northern too, for that matter – And no amount of scolding, or disappointment in me will alter that sad fact. I love you. I wish you were here because I am now very cold & am shivering like a leaf (aspen). Part of this fatal affection for is maybe put down to the fact that I walked around for seven hours yesterday on only a bit of a bun and 1 ½ cups of coffee. You remember Georges Simenon, the Belgian author who wrote those short novels I sometimes got you to read. Novels about the gloomy French & their problems. He often talks about his lousy, unhappy heroes leaning against, or upon, a zinc lined bar, listening to the rain beating on the pavement outside whilst they drown their sorrows in a glass of Calvados. Well, I have never had a glass of Calvados, and didn’t know what the hell anyone could find to drown in it. So I ups and bought a flask of it for only 175 francs which is 4/3. There is still 2/1 worth left in the bottle and it is a very pleasant sort of fire water, made I am told, out of apple juice. Only goes to show, doesn’t it? Look, if you don’t forgive me, I won’t ever be the same. I’ll do a Blunden on you and regret it for ever afterwards [Wep’s friend, journalist Geoff Blunden deserted his wife Micky and married another woman]. I wouldn’t be writing to you if I didn’t think more of you than my actions indicate. Yah!
Yesterday afternoon, I was gloomily looking in a shop window on the Rue des Capucines, when a voice said “Do you think they are nylons or orlons?” I. quick as a flash, replied “I wouldn’t have a clue”. (Smart, eh?) Then he says – “I don’t think I come from too far away from you”. Me – “Could be, Lane Cove, Australia,” Him “Bondi, Sydney, what are you doing?” Me – “Contemplating a beer”. Him – “Oright, we can we go?” Us – “Let’s see”. And so, one of the world’s fleetingest friendships was formed between W. Edwin Pidgeon, late of Northwood, NSW and Ron Watson, not a Sergeant of Detectives, Bondi, NSW. He is over here on some business for Hoyts & has invited me to accompany him to a movie taking, involving the newest French glamour puss, next Monday. He says “come out with me & have a free lunch with the director”. So by the time you read this letter I shall have been irrevocably seduced by the vision splendid – I hope. In any case you are not too bad yourself – much slicker than most of the Frogs I have seen. At your age too, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Remember the nice happy beer we had together at Bulli – the day after we were married. I liked that. Still do. I spent all day looking at the shops which had nothing on Sydney’s. Funny thing is that the shop keepers move great quantities of their stock out on to the foot paths – and you see washing machine demonstrations – cooking exhibitions – bundles of clothing, meat, fish, & God knows what, all displayed halfway across the street. Enough to make the civic fathers of Sydney turn in their graves. I tell you, it’s crazy. Everybody tells me it is nutty to buy goods in Paris. And on looking at the prices I’m inclined to agree. They say wait till you get to London. There is nothing much in the stylish line around. Perhaps because winter is just around the corner. I still love you. I am one of most contented goons, you are ever likely to meet up with. I think you are a bit sappy too. Enough of this love talk. Roley is getting his secretary to take me to a big time fashion parade. I hope I can remember what to tell you – about the details & who’s there & what have you. This Paris is quite a [place – even if it is only the tourists who play. Roley says most of the Parisians have never seen the Folies Bergere [history of], and to prove his point, immediately asked his cleaning up woman (not a bad line of about 40) if she had ever seen the show – she had not.
I don’t need any money – I still have £210 left. I can’t see any point in spending it on shows & things. After all – they fundamentally the same in Sydney – if not as well done. I’m sick of gaping at notable buildings – I find the flavour of a town in its shops & its people. The way they go out – the way they work – The slums & the shops – the devil take the equestrian statues. Just now I wouldn’t mind being home or having you & Graham here with me. Yesterday morning I had a little pleasure in doing a note of the Pont St Michael [Pont Saint Michel], took a photo too, so may be able to get something out of it. The Pont Neuf is the next one up on the river & can be well seen from the windows of Roley’s flat. He & his secretary usually eat out but think it a good idea if I cook them a Chinese meal. I’d like to have a go, & see how the old form is. I still love you.
I have suddenly lost my punch – and find it hard to write any more. Although I am too lousy to let this letter go without filling up the back of this page. Looks as if I’ll finish off a bit half cooked. Which reminds me, that I bought some books by a yank named Henry Miller – strictly banned in England & USA – and no wonder too. King would know of him. I bought the extra books because from what I read in his, which I bought in Rome, “Tropic of Capricorn” he has approached a sort of Indian Tantric, (i.e. sexual union) form of mysticism. Half of this book is straight out surrealist writing – the other, & really vivid half is devoted to an extraordinarily detailed, and enthusiastic account of fucking. It will make your eyes pop out. I can’t quite work out just how much exhibitionism is involved, or whether it is a purposeful contrast between the flight from self & the submergence in self. Seems like a contest between the flesh & the spirit. Anyway – in whichever vein he writes, he is equally moving. Needless to say his books are on the banned list but it is possible that I can get them in. You know, by just walking through Customs with them in my hand – or pocket, etc. Funny thing – Every country I have been through, just accepts your word that you have nothing to declare. Not once has my pack been opened. The bag, incidentally is getting a bit of a bulge in it. Packed pretty solid. Have had the jumper on only 3 or 4 times. Extraordinarily warm over here. Dearest, dearest [little love heart illustration with arrow through it]
Even if it kills me I’ll finish this page. You would (please say yes) wouldn’t you, rather have a letter of nothing, than wait for some Baedeker description of Paris?
How is Graham? I hope I am more understanding when I get back. Something has been missing. Am finding it hard to know what to get him. The limitations of plane packing have to be considered. I’m glad to hear you are all well. I still haven’t got your measurements – but any letters from Bucarest haven’t been sent here yet. I am very glad you know that I am out of the satellite countries. I think it may have been somewhat worrying if you had thought I was still there whilst the big blue is going on between Poland & Hungary & Russia [Hungarian uprising and the Russian invasion].
Au revoir & auf wiedersehen to you, dear wife, and terribly earnest thoughts for Graham. Am looking forward to seeing Trellie – 2 months difference – I won’t know her, nor she me.
I cannot, without complete collapse of gentlemanly restraint, tell you all how much I miss you.
Am getting to the stage of looking forward to my return home. Not that I’ll be any better, once I settle down. But there it is – Many hugs, restrained & otherwise, ditto for these xxxxxxxxxx
X – this one for the female hound, Nortey Trellie.
If I had the space I’d bring her back a piece of French fence post to sniff at.
(P.S. Our entrance to the Lido cost us 25/- each for 1 Scotch. We sat at the bar & looked on. We only had the 1 Scotch.)
This is the river Danube which runs through Budapest. The city on the side of the river nearest you is Pest. The city on the other side is Buda. Hence Buda-Pest. I haven’t had time to look at the place, and I am now out at the airport spending Hungarian forints (that’s the name of their money) as fast as I can because they are of no further use to me. Lots of love to you & Trellie. I am off to Bucharest.
Sat 22-Sep-56: Left Sydney 10:30pm – slept most of the way to Darwin. Plane very empty.
Sun 23-Sep-56: Took off 8:05am. Arrived at Singapore 3:55pm. Saw Ian Hamilton and had fun at ‘Happy World’. Slept at Raffles Hotel. Cashed £5
[Berrimah, Northern Territory]
[23 September 1956]
Had a magnificently smooth trip up and landed about 5:30am in the blinking dark. They seem to have the clocks too fast up here because it was about 6:30am local time before we had the dawn. It is very hot and the birds make different noises outside in the scrub. They caw and gurgle, and the ensemble has a liquid, gurgling note. Not sharp & gay, as in the antiquary No. 85.
I’m dying for a long cold beer but suppose I’ll have to wait till I get back on the plane. We are at a dump in the never-never called Berrimah. Qantas have a comfortable sort of motel looking establishment here. Bedrooms sprawled in lines round a swimming pool, dining room, etc. Unfortunately we don’t go anywhere near Darwin town. I’d like to have seen it – It was Sep 1945 when I last came through.
In 1956, acclaimed Australian artist, William Edwin Pidgeon (WEP) was issued with a visa for travel behind the “Iron Curtain” to Romania as part of a cultural exchange program. This series of posts includes extracts from letters he sent back home to his wife, Dorothy and son, Graham, describing his adventures and depicting the places, people and life as he witnessed them. Included with posts will be some of the photos he took and art work inspired from his trip. Earlier that year Wep had been diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes, a secret closely guarded for years to come for the potential impact it could have upon his ability to obtain painting commissions. Within his Romanian papers is a handwritten note; “My eyes are troubling me very much.”
Wep’s travel arrangements came to the attention of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) with a consequence that he was monitored by ASIO for the next three years. Two other Australians were also invited; actor, Peter O’Shaugnessey and author, Frank Hardy.
Wep left Sydney on September 22, 1956 with stopovers in Darwin, Singapore, Rome, Venice, Munich, and Vienna. He arrived in Budapest, Hungary on October 2nd, travelling to Bucharest in Romania the next day. He spent two weeks in Romania, returning to Vienna on October 18. Five days later a cloud fell over Hungary when widespread revolt erupted against the Soviet backed government leading to its fall from power. On November 4, the Soviets invaded, crushing the revolt, and by November 10, all resistance had ceased.
From Vienna, Wep traveled to Paris where he planned to stay with his old friend and journalist, Roley Pullen. It was here that he met Roley’s assistant, another fellow Australian, Margaret Murray, with whom he formed a lifetime friendship. He remained in Paris for for just over two weeks, then a similar amount of time in London, finally arriving back home in Sydney on December 2, 1956.
Wep is married. To the un-initiated let it be said that Wep is one of Sy d n e y’ s brilliant young artists of the most modern school, and on Thursday he took unto himself a Mrs. William Edwin Pidgeon, for that is Wep’s real name. The bride, was Miss Jessie Graham, only child of Mr. and Mrs. Ceorge O. [sic – A.] Graham, of Brighton, while Wep is the youngest son of Mrs. Thirza Pidgeon and the late Frederick Pidgeon. The ceremony was performed quietly at St. Stephen’s Church, by the Rev. R. McCowan, the bride wearing a dainty frock of pink angel’s skin, and she added a white hat. Her father gave her away. A reception lunch was held at Farmer’s, after which Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Pidgeon left by car for Kosciusko for a fortnight’s honeymoon.
1933 ‘Wep Goes Over the Top’, The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 27 August, p. 28. , viewed 20 Aug 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231434950
As you can see by the letter head I am back on the mainland, killing time while I wait for transport up to Cairns. 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. [Harold and Bassie Coy ran the Hotel Hunters Hill, a favoured drinking spot of Wep and Jess.]
How are all the parlour geese there? Can Molly [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 Marien, 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 Club 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) Seven Pillars of Wisdom [T.E. Lawrence]. 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.
[At some stage Bill visited the Atherton Tablelands where he then got a lift from Major C.H. Cheong, editor of the Army newspaper ‘Table Tops’ who drove him to Townsville presumably on his return trip home. It is estimated that he made it home by Thursday, 17 February 1944.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m somewhat limp after an afternoon stroll (?) up a mountain 200 ft higher than the spot where I now sit. All in all that damned ridge is about 4000 ft above sea level. God knows how the soldiers carried their packs (and the boongs the supplies for them) up these exhausting peaks. They must have been superhuman – it was all I could do to cart myself up.
The scenery round here is really magnificent. There’s nothing like it in Australia. Clouds encircling the mountains half way and passing fogs crown the peaks up to 4000 ft. The hills are treeless except for dark writhing tangles which follow the eroded creek beds slashing down the sides. Imagine the hills of Picton much more precipitous, higher & sharp edged on top – so sharp are some that only one man could cross the saddle at one time – as green or greener than those I painted.
After struggling to the top of this bloody mountain I came across some of the lads coming down. We sat & had a cigarette – they said they were Pioneers. I asked about Lloyd Martin and blow me down if he didn’t come round the track. I introduced myself. He was camped right on the top and all around were the most magnificent views. We had a cuppa which seemed to help me along. Then down the hill in practically a straight line & at a 45º angle. God! Did my legs wobble at the bottom. Unbelievable that I should really come across anyone in such a casual fashion in such a hell of an area as N. Guinea. However, it happened. He said that he had had a letter but two days before from his sister saying that I was on my way. The family resemblance is unmistakeable.
Tomorrow I am on my way up an even higher mount to a Ridge that has been well in the news. Heaven help me, even though I shall have a boong to carry my paint box.
That’s a picture to delight your heart. “Squire Pidgeon and Boong ascend the Hairy Mount.” The password for tomorrow is “Excelsior”. I’m definitely & most positively NOT looking forward to it. But the show must go on – albeit over my wracked & blistered body.
By the way, I am not the least less on the nose! The ground is wet with my honest sweat.
I think this hurricane lamp I’m using is about to give up the ghost any tick of the clock!
Will soon retire to my stretcher. I’m sleeping under native built grass roof in the malarial ward. I am not a patient. It is merely that I have been offered the hospitality of the base. The food here is the best that I have had in N.G. The cook was a chef at Scott’s of Melbourne so I guess he knows how to put even tinned meat & vegetables together. And have I had beans? Am not really eating well – don’t seem to be able to muster up any enthusiasm for the same damned stuff. Had alleged fresh meat the other day. Tasted (which word is an euphemism for it) like well worn saddle leather. I just couldn’t make the grade.
Have been taking my prophylactic daily dose of anti-malaria pills. In time they dye the old bod a fine shade of tangerine with the exception of the finger nails which appear to become whiter. Generally, a very smart effect, especially on persons of sallow complexion which acquires a rare old mahogany hue. I am approaching a very delicate pale primrose on the hands. Perhaps I’ll give you some real colour on my return. The boys say it has the same effects on the old doings as quinine. But what do I care – I aint goin’ no place.
I do hope you are really looking after yourself – eating, drinking moderately & keeping the old clods up on a chair or something, or anything that does for something.
Hope the family are still pottering along alright.
Regards to the Hunter Hillbillys [friends from Hunters Hill – King Watson and other drinking partners]. Even a schooner of Tooheys would cause a riot up here. N.G. is absolutely dry. I haven’t had a drink since Townsville. The boys at Moresby took a dim view of my alcoholless arrival.
Lots of love darling, Bill
P.S. The tea guzzling up here is staggering – every few minutes someone is making tea – if you’re not in the camp drinking the fairly lousy stuff you’re drinking it at a Salvation Army or YMCA inn along the road somewhere.
More love XXX
Wed. Feb 2 6.30 pm.
Jaysus! Do I feel sick! Have just done a very rough and very wobbly sketch of a fellow having his knee opened up by two field surgeons. Do they cut ‘em up! I’ve seen all the operations I want to for many a day. It was touch and go whether I would make a ninny of myself by throwing up on the spot! The day was saved by my extra rapid scrawl and an attempted wise look indicating the completion of my sketch. Phew! I bet I dream about it.
All that on top of tea which made me belch like hell & a slight sickness of exhaustion. I’ve been up and own the blasted mountains today my love. Started at 8.30 am & didn’t return to the camp till nearly 5 pm. Felt completely buggered and far from home. My knees are like jelly – my heels are sore from the thumping I gave them on the way down the mount. Banged all the nails through into my anything but calloused heels (incidentally it’s dammed cold at the moment – and raining too –a perfect setting for a first class whinge).
Well I have at least seen Shaggy Ridge and what a hell of a place it is. Heaven only knows how the boys took it over from the Jap. On either side of a track only wide enough for one. The earth face walls near sheer nearly 200 or 300 ft & the top of it was riddled with fox holes. It is all beyond me I’ll have to get hold of one of the crowd that did it to tell me all about it.
Don’t think I’ll write anything more tonight darling. Am feeling too depressingly tired. Keep a couple of gals for picking me up at Martin Place. I aim to be home this month via Flying Boat.