NERIMBERA, QUEENSLAND, Australia -- In the small town of Nerimbera lies a hidden gem of American and Australian military history - St. Christopher's Chapel. During World War II, American service members built St. Christopher's Chapel using stones and bush timber found while camping in the surrounding area. Often used by locals, the pavilion like structure is surrounded by a stacked stone wall and is highlighted with an annual service on the Sunday nearest American Independence Day.
Members of the local community and Australian veterans gathered at St. Christopher's Chapel on Sunday, July 7, 2019 to worship and fellowship with The United States and Australian participants of Exercise Talisman Sabre 19. The gathering was not only about spiritual worship, but also an opportunity for U.S. service members to celebrate Independence Day away from home.
"The uniqueness of this chapel is that it is the only chapel, outside of the United States, built by U.S. forces in existence," says U.S. Army Maj. Edward Harris. "It is a great reminder of the relationship the U.S. and the Australians have, not only in our alliance, but in our continued spiritual connection with each other as two united countries."
Harris, a chaplain, finds a unique connection with St. Christopher's Chapel. As a child, Harris' father was stationed in Canberra with the U.S. Air Force where he attended church services regularly. This time in Australia and the memories made here played a role in him joining the Army and becoming a chaplain.
"I am really excited to connect my past with the present and get a chance to participate in this bilateral exercise with Australian chaplains," says Harris. "It is the legacy of those that have come before us that brings us here today to celebrate this great relationship."
The crowd at St. Christopher's featured multiple Australian veterans, many of which fought alongside U.S. service members in Vietnam. The camaraderie on display resonated with U.S. Army Lt. Col Stephen Miko, Talisman Sabre Army Forces chief of operations, who alluded to the century long partnership beginning on the Western Front of World War I at the Battle of Hamel.
"From that point Australians and Americans became perfect mates, after all we share similar values. Self-reliance, sacrifice and from time to time, a bit of irreverence," says Miko. "It is all together fitting, that we should meet here today on the Sunday closest to the 4th of July, not simply in recognition of the American Independence Day, but more importantly, to recognize the spirit of Hamel."
Americans have fought alongside Australians in every major conflict over the past century. St. Christopher's stands as a tribute to the men and women who fought together - from the trenches at Hamel, to the jungles of Vietnam, and the streets in Afghanistan. This partnership has stood the test of time just as St. Christopher's Chapel has weathered the storms and is a unique part of both countries' illustrious history.