St Christopher’s Chapel
St Christophers Chapel Road, Nerimbera 4701
Between mid 1942 and early 1944 the area surrounding Rockhampton sustained thousands of US soldiers who were fighting in the Pacific and this non-denominational chapel was constructed to service the religious needs of those troops. Erected within Area ‘A’ of Camp Nerimbera (a convalescent camp for US personnel) in 1943, by the US 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, St Christopher’s Chapel is located west of St Christopher’s Chapel Road, to the southeast of Rockhampton.
The single storeyed chapel is open at the front (east) and to both sides, with a low stone wall around the perimeter. The chapel has a wide centre aisle with timber pews to either side and a random rubble stone wall at the west end of the chapel creates a recessed central altar with a door to either side accessing rear side rooms, which are enclosed with fibrous cement sheeting. A free-standing stone pulpit is located at the southern side of the altar. A later octagonal band rotunda is located on the northern side of the chapel. This structure has a concrete and stone base, and is constructed of timber.
The open-air non-denominational St Christopher’s Chapel at Berserker was erected in 1943 by the American 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment of the 2nd Engineer Special (Amphibious) Brigade. The timber and stone chapel was built on Rockhampton Harbour Board land made available to the U.S. Army by the Queensland Government. It reflects the presence of American troops in Queensland during World War II and stands as the only structure of its kind in Australia.
The chapel was constructed as part of Area “A” of Camp Nerimbera, a convalescent camp for American troops based around Rockhampton and other U.S. units which had been sent to Rockhampton to rest after combat operations in the Pacific islands. Between mid 1942 and early 1944 Rockhampton was home to two of the four full US Army Divisions (the 24th, 32nd and 41st Infantry divisions, and the 1st Cavalry Division) which trained in Queensland During World War II. The 41st Division, a National Guard unit, was the first US division dispatched to Australia, with contingents arriving at Melbourne and Sydney during April and May 1942. After training at Puckapunyal in Victoria, the division, initially called the “Sunset Division” and later the “Jungleers”, was sent to Rockhampton in July 1942, where it was accommodated in Camp Rockhampton.
The US I (1st) Corps Headquarters, under Major General Robert L. Eichelberger, arrived in Rockhampton in August. At this time I Corps included the 41st Division and the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division (also a National Guard unit), which had arrived in Adelaide in May 1942. However, the 32nd did not go to Rockhampton, instead camping south of Brisbane at Camp Cable (from July 1942 before heading to New Guinea from September 1942). The 32nd had been offered to Australia in return for Australia leaving its experienced 9th Division, 2nd Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) in the Middle East.
The third division to join I Corps, and the second US division sent to Rockhampton, was the 24th Infantry Division, which arrived in Rockhampton in September 1943. The 24th was originally the Hawaiian Division, and it retained the latter’s shoulder sleeve insignia of a taro leaf. The main units of the 24th Division were accommodated at Camp Caves.
After arriving at Rockhampton the 41st Division commenced training in jungle warfare, and each battalion in turn was sent down to the Toorbul Point Combined Training Centre near Brisbane, for training in amphibious warfare. Units of the 41st Division fought in New Guinea during 1943 and in April 1944 the Division landed simultaneously at Hollandia (Dutch New Guinea) and Aitape (New Guinea) in Operation Reckless and Operation Persecution, in an attempt to isolate the Japanese 18th Army at Wewak. The 24th Division also landed at Hollandia as part of Operation Reckless, having prepared at Goodenough Island (New Guinea) from January 1944.
Area ‘A’ (1st Training Centre) of Camp Nerimbera was located between today’s St Christopher’s Chapel Road to the northeast and the Fitzroy River to the southwest, and between the Rockhampton-Emu Park road to the northwest, and St Christopher’s Chapel Road to the southeast. Areas ‘B’ (1st Training Centre HQ, 101st Station Hospital), ‘C’ and ‘D’ of Camp Nerimbera were located north of the Rockhampton-Emu Park Road, between Black Creek Road and about 2kms northeast towards Mulgoodoo Road.
In 1943 several army chaplains recognised the need for a non-denominational chapel, and approached the Corps Commander for assistance. The 542nd Engineers were given the task of constructing the chapel under the supervision of the chaplains. The timber roof trusses and the stones used in construction were collected from the surrounding area. When the work was completed late in 1943, the four chaplains (two Protestant, one Roman Catholic and one Jewish Rabbi) consecrated the chapel as a place of divine worship where non-denominational services could be held.
After the US troops left in early 1944 there was a gradual deterioration in the building until Henry Beak, whose grazing property adjoined the chapel, began to take care of it in July 1947. From mid 1955 the Livingstone Shire and Rockhampton City Councils assumed responsibility for the chapel. In 1958, Master Sergeant Jack Bauman, US Army, returned to Rockhampton and attempted to raise funds for the restoration of the chapel. Jack Bauman died before funds were raised but the 41st Division in America forwarded $130 to the American 41st Division Association in Rockhampton to paint the chapel. An octagonal band rotunda was erected in honour of Master Sergeant Bauman adjacent to the chapel.
In 1959 vandals destroyed a number of articles in the chapel which precipitated the formation of a committee and the appointment of trustees from the R.S.S.A.I.L.A. and the 41st Division Association to preserve and maintain the chapel. The committee established an annual service held on the Sunday closest to 4 July, American Independence Day. During the time the committee looked after the chapel the memorial fence was erected with each donor’s name engraved on a stainless steel panel. The lower gates were donated by the R.S.S.A.I.L.A. Rockhampton Branch and the main gates were a gift from Henry Beak. The signs commemorating athletic events, which are located around the sides of the chapel, are mementos collected from a sports oval which was located near the chapel and used by the troops during their occupation. These signs were placed in the chapel by Henry Beak. In 1986 the committee dissolved, at which time the R.S.L. was approached to be the new caretakers for the chapel.
St Christopher’s Chapel, Queensland Heritage Register 600660
McCarthy, D. 1959. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 - Army. “Volume V – South-West Pacific Area - First Year: Kokoda to Wau."
Dexter, D. 1961. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 - Army. “Volume VI - The New Guinea Offensives."
Charlton, P. 1991. South Queensland WWII 1941–45, Boolarong, Brisbane.
National Archives of Australia. MAP 17. Rockhampton District Camp Areas - Engineer Office Base Area Command No. 2 [USASOS]
Base Section 3 A.P.O. 926 - “A” Area Camp Nerimbera. 1944
National Archives of Australia, MAP 146. Rockhampton District Camp Areas - Engineer Office Base Area Command No. 2 [USASOS] Base Section 3 A.P.O. 926 - Camp Nerimbera Garbage Collection, 1944.
41st Infantry Division (United States), Wikipedia
24th Infantry Division (United States), Wikipedia
32nd Infantry Division (United States), Wikipedia