War Letters – New Guinea: 1-2 Feb 1944, Guy’s Post & Shaggy Ridge

Australian Red Cross Society letterhead
W.E. Pidgeon
c/o P.R. Unit
N. G. Force
Moresby
Tues 1 Feb [1945]

Sweetheart,

Am writing from an Advanced Dressing Station i.e. a base where surgeons work closest to the front line.  Fortunately for the troops there is only one wounded casualty here at the moment, and from all information on the state of the war up here there are not likely to be any more.  The Jap is definitely on the way out.

Evacuating Wounded-Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Evacuating Wounded-Ramu Valley, New Guinea

I’m somewhat limp after an afternoon stroll (?) up a mountain 200 ft higher than the spot where I now sit.  All in all that damned ridge is about 4000 ft above sea level.  God knows how the soldiers carried their packs (and the boongs the supplies for them) up these exhausting peaks.  They must have been superhuman – it was all I could do to cart myself up.

The scenery round here is really magnificent.  There’s nothing like it in Australia.  Clouds encircling the mountains half way and passing fogs crown the peaks up to 4000 ft.  The hills are treeless except for dark writhing tangles which follow the eroded creek beds slashing down the sides.  Imagine the hills of Picton much more precipitous, higher & sharp edged on top – so sharp are some that only one man could cross the saddle at one time – as green or greener than those I painted.

After struggling to the top of this bloody mountain I came across some of the lads coming down.  We sat & had a cigarette – they said they were Pioneers.  I asked about Lloyd Martin and blow me down if he didn’t come round the track.  I introduced myself.  He was camped right on the top and all around were the most magnificent views.  We had a cuppa which seemed to help me along.  Then down the hill in practically a straight line & at a 45º angle.  God! Did my legs wobble at the bottom.  Unbelievable that I should really come across anyone in such a casual fashion in such a hell of an area as N. Guinea.  However, it happened.  He said that he had had a letter but two days before from his sister saying that I was on my way.  The family resemblance is unmistakeable.

Tomorrow I am on my way up an even higher mount to a Ridge that has been well in the news.  Heaven help me, even though I shall have a boong to carry my paint box.

15

That’s a picture to delight your heart. “Squire Pidgeon and Boong ascend the Hairy Mount.”  The password for tomorrow is “Excelsior”.  I’m definitely & most positively NOT looking forward to it.  But the show must go on – albeit over my wracked & blistered body.

By the way, I am not the least less on the nose!  The ground is wet with my honest sweat.

I think this hurricane lamp I’m using is about to give up the ghost any tick of the clock!

Will soon retire to my stretcher.  I’m sleeping under native built grass roof in the malarial ward.  I am not a patient.  It is merely that I have been offered the hospitality of the base.  The food here is the best that I have had in N.G.  The cook was a chef at Scott’s of Melbourne so I guess he knows how to put even tinned meat & vegetables together.  And have I had beans?  Am not really eating well – don’t seem to be able to muster up any enthusiasm for the same damned stuff.  Had alleged fresh meat the other day.  Tasted (which word is an euphemism for it) like well worn saddle leather.  I just couldn’t make the grade.

Have been taking my prophylactic daily dose of anti-malaria pills.  In time they dye the old bod a fine shade of tangerine with the exception of the finger nails which appear to become whiter.  Generally, a very smart effect, especially on persons of sallow complexion which acquires a rare old mahogany hue.  I am approaching a very delicate pale primrose on the hands.  Perhaps I’ll give you some real colour on my return.  The boys say it has the same effects on the old doings as quinine.  But what do I care – I aint goin’ no place.

I do hope you are really looking after yourself – eating, drinking moderately & keeping the old clods up on a chair or something, or anything that does for something.

Hope the family are still pottering along alright.

Regards to the Hunter Hillbillys [friends from Hunters Hill – King Watson and other drinking partners].  Even a schooner of Tooheys would cause a riot up here.  N.G. is absolutely dry.  I haven’t had a drink since Townsville.  The boys at Moresby took a dim view of my alcoholless arrival.

Lots of love darling, Bill

P.S. The tea guzzling up here is staggering – every few minutes someone is making tea – if you’re not in the camp drinking the fairly lousy stuff you’re drinking it at a Salvation Army or YMCA inn along the road somewhere.

More love XXX

 

Wed.  Feb 2 6.30 pm.

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

Jaysus! Do I feel sick!  Have just done a very rough and very wobbly sketch of a fellow having his knee opened up by two field surgeons.  Do they cut ‘em up!  I’ve seen all the operations I want to for many a day.  It was touch and go whether I would make a ninny of myself by throwing up on the spot!  The day was saved by my extra rapid scrawl and an attempted wise look indicating the completion of my sketch.  Phew!  I bet I dream about it.

All that on top of tea which made me belch like hell & a slight sickness of exhaustion.  I’ve been up and own the blasted mountains today my love.  Started at 8.30 am & didn’t return to the camp till nearly 5 pm.  Felt completely buggered and far from home.  My knees are like jelly – my heels are sore from the thumping I gave them on the way down the mount.  Banged all the nails through into my anything but calloused heels (incidentally it’s dammed cold at the moment – and raining too –a perfect setting for a first class whinge).

Shaggy Ridge, New Guinea
Shaggy Ridge, New Guinea
Ascending the Pimple; reproduced The Australian Women's Weekly,
Ascending the Pimple; reproduced The Australian Women’s Weekly, 10 June 1944, p40.

Well I have at least seen Shaggy Ridge and what a hell of a place it is. Heaven only knows how the boys took it over from the Jap.  On either side of a track only wide enough for one.  The earth face walls near sheer nearly 200 or 300 ft & the top of it was riddled with fox holes.  It is all beyond me I’ll have to get hold of one of the crowd that did  it to tell me all about it.

Don’t think I’ll write anything more tonight darling.  Am feeling too depressingly tired.  Keep a couple of gals for picking me up at Martin Place.  I aim to be home this month via Flying Boat.

Hope you are OK.

I might get a letter in a few days – hope so.
Lots of love –from
Plugga Pidge
the boy wit de wobbly knees.

13

I really think my mountaineering days are over.

Moderation is the keyword for today.

love XX

Bill

[Study for Evacuating wounded-Ramu Valley]
[Study for Evacuating wounded-Ramu Valley]
Study for Ascending the Pimple
Study for Ascending the Pimple
Squire Wep and faithful 'boongs' ascend Shaggy Ridge; reproduced
Squire Wep and faithful ‘boongs’ ascend Shaggy Ridge; reproduced The Australian Women’s Weekly, 18 March 1944, p9.
On Shaggy Ridge
On Shaggy Ridge, reproduced: The Australian Women’s Weekly, 10 Jun 1944, p40
Advanced Dressing Station, Guy's Post, New Guinea
Advanced Dressing Station, Guy’s Post, New Guinea
The Pimple and Shaggy Ridge, New Guinea
PASSED BY OPERATIONAL CENSOR SWPA
PHOTO NO. MNG. 456.
The razorback of the Pimple with Australian troops digging in. In the background is Shaggy Ridge from which the attack was made. This mountain spur which rises to a level of 5,600 ft. dominates the Ramu Valley.
PLEASE ACKNOWLEDGE DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION.
Admissions, Field Hopsital, Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Admissions at an Advanced Dressing Station at Guy’s Post in the upper Ramu Valley, New Guinea
Knee operation at a field hospital in the Ramu Valley, New Guine
Knee operation at an Advanced Dressing Station at Guy’s Post in the upper Ramu Valley, New Guinea
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea
Jeep trailer
Jeep trailer
Possibly a Grant M3 tank
Possibly a Grant M3 tank
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea
On Patrol near Ramu, New Guinea

24 x 18 cm 24 x 18 cm Kankiryo and Mount Prothero 21 x 11 cm 21 x 11 cm 24 x 18 cm

War Letters – New Guinea: 22 Jan 1944, Finschhafen; Barge off Fortification Point

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.

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.

Landed at Lae on the way up.  You can tell Jane [Jess’ mother] 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.

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 fop 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.

This side of the island is TROPIC.  The hot sweet smell of rotting vegetation under the vine lying 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 schmozle looks like a corner of the Botanical Gardens gone to fruit.

Sketch study for 'Barge off Fortification Point'

Barge at Fortification Point
Barge off Fortification Point, reproduced The Australian Women’s Weekly, 10 June 1944, p41; Art Gallery of NSW collection

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 journey 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.

??ou got the mosquitoes.

Goodnight & Sweet Dreams

[parts missing off copy]