US Army-built chapel reminds visitors of Australia’s wartime past
By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 21, 2017
ROCKHAMPTON, Australia — As 33,000 troops take part in Talisman Saber war games near Rockhampton along the central Queensland coast, a small chapel overlooking a pasture serves as a reminder of when about 70,000 U.S. soldiers called the city home.
The nondenominational Saint Christophers Chapel, built in 1943 by the Army’s 542nd Engineer Battalion, is the only structure remaining from when Rockhampton served as a springboard and training location for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s World War II island-hopping campaign. The city hosted the 1st Cavalry Division and the 24th, 32nd and 41st infantry divisions on a half-dozen camps between 1942-44.
Along with the open-air, pavilion-style chapel, the grounds include a band rotunda dedicated to a servicemember who helped maintain the chapel decades ago. A concrete pillar from an artillery declination station used by 41st Infantry Division howitzers stands at the chapel’s foot, and U.S. and Australian flags and seals adorn the gates and interior.
Cliff Hudson, 79, of Sawtell, New South Wales, first visited the chapel about 30 years ago because it shares its name with his son.
“My wife always wanted our daughter to get married here because of the Christopher name,” he said.
Hudson said he is drawn by the chapel’s interior boards listing names, sporting events and results of competitions from the 1940s. The boards were taken from a nearby war-era sports field and placed inside.
Saint Christophers nearly deteriorated in the years after WWII. Vandals destroyed parts of the chapel in 1959, prompting locals and the 41st Infantry Division Association to start caring for the site. Today, the chapel and its grounds are immaculately maintained, and church services are held each year on the Sunday closet to the Fourth of July.
Julie Henderson, 77, of Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, said she’s glad the chapel still stands.
“It’s nice to come and remember the soldiers who served in the war because we weren’t there,” she said.