Jack's hat off to St Christopher
WHEN American forces veteran Jack Fleming reminisces about his love for St Christopher’s Chapel, he brings history to life.
The 92-year-old was in fine form yesterday, and for his small audience at the historic Nerimbera church, it was suddenly 1943.
Rockhampton’s population was swelled by up to 70,000 US troops, some waiting to be transported to the island battlefields in the Pacific, some recovering from their bloody encounters with the enemy.
St Christopher’s was built by the servicemen as a non-denominational place of worship for the hordes of soldiers and airmen passing through.
Jack glanced up at the names painted around the open sided chapel; names like David Dake of Oshkosh, Wisconsin whose standing long jump of eight feet and seven inches is recorded for all time.
“These names you see, they weren’t athletes. They were convalescing soldiers and they competed in their army uniforms,” he said in his soft American drawl.
Those names are so familiar to him, but he never met any of them and wonders if they made it back alive.
Jack, who lives in Emu Park, told how his fate was sealed when he met and fell in love with a local girl.
They were married by the Army Chaplain before he returned to battle and after a brief return to his American home, Jack settled in the Rockhampton area.
He’s been here since 1946.
And when, after the chapel was vandalised by fire in 1957, he was asked to chair a management committee, he looked after it for the next 30 years.
Jack was back yesterday as guest of honour at a meeting to mark the latest restoration and a commitment to protect the chapel as a heritage memorial.
Member for Rockhampton Robert Schwarten said the stone and timber structure was a symbol of the fellowship and contribution of American servicemen to the Rockhampton community.
“In the war Rocky people opened their hearts and their homes to those Americans and there are very strong bonds to this day.
“This relationship was evident again in this restoration with defence service staff from Australia and America joining forces to help.
“It is vitally important we preserve important community memorials like St Christopher’s and the stories and history they represent.”
He was proud, he said, that the Queensland Government had contributed $12,500 towards the repair and renovation of the chapel.
The chapel was consecrated by four chaplains: two Protestant, one Catholic and one Jewish.
Others who attended yesterday included Deputy Mayor Rose Swadling, Member for Keppel Paul Hoolihan, Cos Cameron and Bob Leicht, president and secretary of the National Servicemen Association.
He met and fell in love with a local girl