AWM

Richard Churchill, Diary New Guinea 1943-44

Tobacco and Army Ration tins filled with 382 loose-leaf creamy pages, covered with spidery blue ink, over 145,000 words – a WWII diary from New Guinea 1943–44. It was found 55 years later, in a suburban garden shed, after the death of a whimsical gentle giant, my grandfather – Richard Churchill (1911-1999), SX15561, 2/48th Battalion.

His detailed accounts are harrowing, yet often beautiful and nature’s part in war pervades every page. At the time I was reading his diaries I was also studying the native vegetation of my Kangaroo Island property. I saw a vivid connection between the soldiers and the Eucalyptus leaves – quintessentially Australian; unique individuals in a collective grouping; weathered, diseased and attacked in myriad ways; all of them altered and many fallen; and ultimately, for me, a source of peace. So I created a series of 14 pieces called “Falling Leaves”.

Lancaster

Lancaster
Coastal White Mallee (Eucalyptus diversifolia) leaves, chewed by scarab beetles, linen thread, bookbinder’s gum and gouache on canvas
34 x 44 cm framed
SOLD – Acquired by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra

“There are all sorts of insects on the ceiling of the tent. One fellow is 5 or 6 inches long and looks just like a stick with knots and twigs complete and there is a pretty locust on my mosquito net and has the coloring of shot silk in the flickering lamplight. A huge bright green monster near the flap is a Lancaster. They are all named after aeroplanes.”
Richard Churchill

 

Swimming

Swimming
Kingscote Mallee (Eucalyptus rugosaa) leaves, linen thread, bookbinder’s gum and gouache on canvas
34 x 44 cm framed

“There are all number of our fellows swimming and their white and brown bodies are very conspicuous.”
Richard Churchill

 

Casualty List

Casualty List
Kangaroo Island Narrow-leaved Mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia) bark, linen thread and gouache on canvas
62 x 92 cm

 “There is a casualty list on a tree.”
Richard Churchill

 

Going Fissing

Going Fissing
Kangaroo Island Narrow-leaved Mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia) bark, linen thread and gouache on canvas
62 x 92 cm

 “I see Alby Norton the Lieut who went to the M.E. with us has been killed. His brother too. Old Sufti Reynolds too. He couldn’t pronounce his ‘sh’ and I wrote a piece of poetry about him going ‘fissing’. Kelly was killed. Ted Pearson lost a leg. Corcoran was hit in the back by a sniper but is alright. Bushell was in the hole in which a grenade landed and is in a bad way. Tonkin was very close to a 2 inch shell and was carted off with blast. Lieut Treloar, our adjutant who had just been made Captain was killed by the shell which got Major Batten who died here in the M.D.S. Lieut Wally Pryor trod on one of Sgt Nottles booby traps and has bad injuries. Smith lost his nerve and yelled they’re on us and shot two men with his pistol one of them being Hutchinson. Fred Carruthers went through but reported back to the doctor, he had reported his nerves before the blue. Porky Priestly went through but kept going and will be on a very serious charge.”
Richard Churchill

 

Falling Leaves

Falling Leaves
Coastal White Mallee (Eucalyptus diversifolia) leaves, chewed by scarab beetles, linen thread, bookbinder’s gum and gouache on canvas
34 x 44 cm 

 “I think they are shooting at the falling leaves and other queer noises.”
Richard Churchill

 

Ack Ack

Ack Ack
Coastal White Mallee (Eucalyptus diversifolia) leaves, chewed by scarab beetles, linen thread, bookbinder’s gum and gouache on canvas
62 x 92 cm

“The Ack Ack is bursting just behind us. I can hear the drone of planes. All is quiet now and the crowd are shouting for the show to recommence and flashing torches. The flare of wax matches as everybody seems to be lighting a cigarette at once is much worse than the silver screen itself. There are a lot of fellows yelling and shouting at one another and yelling for the operator to come out of his hole etc. The show goes again for a while. This picture is really good. Damn! Another warning. Off she goes again which is signal for everybody to light a cigarette and flash a torch and yell at each other.”
Richard Churchill

 

Tobacco

Tobacco
Kingscote Mallee (Eucalyptus rugosa) leaves, linen thread, bookbinder’s gum and gouache on canvas
34 x 44 cm 

 “A tobacco issue but only an ounce. We have cut for the odd ounce of Terry’s and Coogan has won it so as it is pipe tobacco I will take his two ounces and give him an ounce of cigarette later. Bob Wells is saying he has offered his ounce of weed to Sticker Marshall for his free bottle of beer and was knocked back. So I have offered to exchange my free bottle of beer for the ounce of tobacco. So I am now square with Coog.”
Richard Churchill

Richard Churchill, 2/48th Battalion, WWII, New Guinea, 1943

Red Tracers

Red Tracers
Kingscote Mallee (Eucalyptus rugosa) leaves, linen thread and gouache on canvas
62 x 92 cm

“Hawky and I have made our doover in the kunia grass and the others all around us. We sat about after tea and most of the others yarned but I will sit on the side of the hill next to my doover and think about my daughter. There are some red tracers flying around way out to sea. Hawky has come and sat down beside me and is doing some heavy thinking too.”
Richard Churchill
[Written the day he receives a letter from his wife Ruth, saying she has given birth to their daughter Mary. After the war Hawky married Ruth’s sister Marian.]

 

Other quotes from the “Falling Leaves” series:

“I’m shaking like a leaf with fear. I can’t get any closer into this tree. I hope it doesn’t fall for it seems to lift out of the ground with each bomb.”

“The biggest of trees were uprooted. The roots and earth on the bottoms of them 15 feet high where they had been torn out of the ground. Everywhere were huge branches torn from the trees. Any left standing within a hundred yards were just splintered stumps denuded of branches.”

“The bullets are whizzing through the trees now.”

“I finished my shift and curled up on my bed of saplings and leaves with my half blanket round me and my ground sheet over me and let it rain.”

 

Xmas Day

Saturday 25th December [1943] Xmas Day
Richard Churchill

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© Janine Mackintosh, All Rights Reserved 2015

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