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FORREST, John Fairlie (1901-1971)

FORREST, Reverend John Fairlie (1901-1971)

Reverend John Fairlie Forrest was elected Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Queensland for 1956-7. At the time of his election by the State Assembly he was a minister of St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, in Toowoomba, Queensland.

He was the son of Rev James Alexander Forrest, minister of St George’s Church, Geelong from 1906 until 1919 and Isabella nee McAlpine. After attending Miss Harris’s School, he came to Geelong College from 1911 to 1919 before moving to Scotch College, Melbourne for the last six months of 1919. He then entered Ormond College, studying at Melbourne University. In 1935, he married Miss Jean Katherine Alpass, the daughter of Arthur Edgar Ernest and Katherine nee Ferguson, of Hawthorn.

During World War II, Fairlie became Senior Presbyterian Chaplain in the Middle East, and served in the Libyan campaign. In April 1941, he exchanged with another chaplain in Greece, but was wounded during fighting, and taken to hospital, where, along with other patients and staff, he was captured when the German Army occupied the hospital. The Geelong Advertiser reported, ‘Advice received in Horsham states that, with another Horsham soldier he saw dive bombers approaching and was struck in the back and legs by splinters from a shell. He was taken to hospital in Greece, but was later reported as 'missing', believed to be a prisoner of war.’ He wrote to the School shortly before his release and the letter was published in Pegasus:

‘Every Australian who was in Greece carries a great respect for the generosity and devotion of the People of Athens, who gave us all the help they could and risked flogging and imprisonment in order to shelter and protect escapees from the prison camps. Often when we were on parole walks, people would come up to us and urge us to accept pieces of bread or bunches of grapes or figs - small gifts, yet given at a time when starvation was gripping the people, and when any food at all was worth a fortune. Throughout our imprisonment the Greeks never failed us, and regularly every week ladies of the Red Cross came to the hospital and brought gifts of "extras" they could procure. The news that Athens is now free, and that Australians will be able to send practical help, affords us an opportunity of repaying a little of the debt our men owe to their friends in Greece.

After several months in Athens I was moved to Salonica, and from there on to Germany, where I spent a further two and a half years. In each camp I visited, I found how much we were dependent on the Red Cross for the amenities that relieved the monotony of imprisonment. Regular weekly food parcels removed any fear of starvation, and in addition we received books, clothes, medical supplies and, most important of all, Letters from Home. Equal in its devotion to us was the YMCA, whose representatives visited each camp regularly and supplied us with sports equipment, musical instruments, gramophones, records and many other things. To these great organisations we all willingly pay tribute for their wonderful work. Conditions under which prisoners live vary a great deal. In an Oflag (Officers' camp) one is often reminded of a school: classes are held each day, and many have passed examinations; regular organised games are held every week. In a Stalag (Men's Camp) a great deal depends on the character of the German Commandant and on the kind of work the men are doing. Some have had a hard time, others have been well treated. On the whole, the treatment of British prisoners has been reasonable. That the Nazis will lose the war is a certainty, and the end may come very soon in the New Year’.

At the time of his discharge on 22 December 1944, he held the rank of Major J F Forrest.

Sources: Pegasus December 1955 p 62. James Affleck Geelong Collegians at the Second World War (citing Australian War Memorial, National Archives).
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