The mystery of James Fiddles

You might say James Fiddles is an international man of mystery.

Not quite on the scale of Austin Powers or 007 James Bond, but folks in Queensland, Australia, would sure like to know more about him.

Fiddles of Pasadena was one of thousands of American troops stationed in Australia during World War II.

Attached to the 126th Infantry, 32nd Division, Fiddles and other Americans came to Nerimbera, in Queensland to recuperate after fighting the Japanese in New Guinea in 1942.

While there, troops built St. Christopher’s Chapel on the banks of the Fitzroy River and competed in a variety of athletic contests at a nearby arena. It was in the arena where Fiddles made a name for himself, winning an award for rope climbing.

Eight other American servicemen – most from Wisconsin or Michigan – won awards, too. All their names were added to a plaque commemorating their achievements.

When the arena was finally torn down several years ago, the plaque was transferred to St. Christopher’s.

Over the past 18 months Brian Morris, an 80-year-old resident of Queensland, has made it his duty to track down the nine men. Morris, a teenager during the war, said he made friends with several Americans stationed in Australia who manned a gun emplacement on the coast overlooking an oyster bed owned by his father.

On July Fourth every year, residents of Nerimbera, Rockhampton and other nearby towns gather at St. Christopher’s to remember Americans who briefly lived there.

Last year, Morris attended the ceremony.

“Looking at the names on the chapel walls, I decided to trace the men who had given so much in defense of this country,” Morris said.

Ultimately, Morris wants to have the life story of each of the men become part of the chapel’s archive.

Since setting out on his search, Morris has found eight of the nine – some living, some dead.

Among them were average Americans like:

– Leonard Christian of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, who won the 440 dash. He returned to the United States and worked for 25 years at the American Motors plant in Racine, Wisconsin before his death in 1993;

– David R. Dake, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, who won the broad jump, returned to battle for three tours in the South Pacific, before coming home. After working at a Boeing plant in Florida, Dake, who is still alive, became a Pentacostal minister before he returned to Wisconsin, and;

– Lyle U. Smith, of Tacoma, Washington, who lost his life in battle.

But, figuring out what happened to James Fiddles, the lone Californian in a group of Midwesterners, remains a riddle, Morris said.

“His name is not common, but he has proved to be the most difficult to trace,” Morris said.

Morris believes his last hope to find Fiddles lies in the San Gabriel Valley. He’s praying that someone can connect the dots and solve the mystery of the champion rope climber and Australian hero.

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