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Members of 1 Corps Ski School
in Lebanon in January 1942:
Major Riddell, Sgt Due,
Captain C Parsons, Captain
R Mooney, Sgt L S Salmon
and Sgt J Abbott Smith.
[AWM 011403]
‘The Mad Mile’, Jezzine, Lebanon 1941, William Dargie, 1970.
[Oil on canvas, 160 cm x 274.5 cm. AWM ART27683]

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Corporal James Heather Gordon, 2/31st Infantry Battalion, was awarded the Victoria Cross for 'most conspicuous gallantry' in the Jezzine area on 7 October 1941.
[AWM 021196]
Members of the Free French
forces entering Damascus
after Vichy forces surrendered
the town on 21 June 1941.
[AWM 009747]
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Syria and Lebanon June 1941
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In July 1942, former stonemasons,
Private G Skipworth and Private
J Govan recorded the
Australians' capture of Damour
by cutting an inscription into a cliff beside the Haifa to Tripoli railway
then under construction.
[AWM 012749A]

After the surrender of France in June 1940, the French colonies of Lebanon and Syria passed into the control of the pro-German Vichy French government. The British saw these colonies as a threat to their interests in the Middle East and as possible areas from which the Germans might attack Egypt and threaten oil supplies from Iraq. On 7-8 June 1941, Australians of the 7th Division, along with British and Free French forces, striking north from Palestine, invaded Syria and Lebanon. The operation was supported by RAAF and RAF units and by British and Australian warships off the coast of Lebanon.

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The carved record of the Australians' capture of Damour, 61 years later.
[Garrie Hutchinson, 2003]

On 9 June, the Australians were involved in heavy fighting at the Litani River in southern Lebanon. Further intense action occurred between 11-27 June at Merdjayoun, Lebanon, where Australian and British troops attacked and counter-attacked Vichy forces. On 21 June, the Syrian capital of Damascus fell to a combined Indian, British, Australian and Free French force. Fighting, however, continued in Lebanon as the Allies struggled to take the important coastal centre of Damour. With the fall of Damour on 9 July 1941, the Vichy commander, General Dentz, asked for an armistice which was signed at Acre on 13 July 1941. Altogether about 18,000 Australian troops took part in the Syrian campaign.

 

 

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'They were my best pals and I will do everything possible to find them'
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Kenneth von Bibra at a
picnic at Puckapunyal
before going overseas.
[AWM PR01741 Item 4/4]

Vic Houldcroft, a Staff Sergeant in the AIF Press Camp, was down in the coastal sector of the Lebanon when he heard that his friends, former journalists Kenneth von Bibra and Christopher Moody Walker, who had enlisted in the AIF, had been missing for four days. He set off in search of them.

On 24 June 1941 six Australians, including von Bibra and Walker, had been involved in an attack near a Free French machine-gun post known as 1322 in the mountains near Jezzine. Only one man returned from the attack. Vic Houldcroft, determined to find his colleagues, travelled to the Australian lines nearest 1322. At first refused permission for a reconnaissance due to heavy Vichy French machine-gun fire, he was able to join a burial reconnaissance party a day later, on 30 June. The burial party climbed up and down precipitous mountain slopes to 1322 where they found some bodies but not those of the missing men. Houldcroft searched 'every nook and cranny thoroughly to ensure that they had not tried to escape ... through the enemy's lines ... Although the Froggies must have watched me for 1/4 of an hour they did not fire on me.'

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A map Vic Houldcroft found on the ground near
machine-gun strongpost 1332.
[AWM PR0471 Item 4/4]

Houldcroft refused to believe that his two friends were dead. Instead, the inconclusive battle casualty lists encouraged him to believe that the French had taken the men prisoners. He persisted with his search but his attempts to revisit the site of the action were thwarted by enemy snipers and machine-gun fire. Remaining optimistic, Houldcroft planned to search the area again as soon as he could do so. 'Meanwhile', he wrote,'I urge you all to keep up hope. They were my best pals, and I will do everything possible to find them.' [From an undated report by Staff Sergeant Vic Houldcroft, Press Camp AIF. AWM PR0471 Item 4/4]

Their families also endured the suspense of the search. First notified that they were listed as 'believed wounded' and then as 'missing in action believed killed', their families were finally notified in November 1941 that the men were now listed as having been 'killed in action'.[NAA B883 VX29109 Kenneth Charles von Bibra]

 

 

Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Morseby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1941-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Morseby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1941-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Members of 1 Corps Ski School in Lebanon in January 1942: Major Riddell, Sgt Due,
Captain C Parsons, Captain R Mooney, Sgt L S Salmon and Sgt. J Abbott Smith.

Specially selected AIF units were formed in Syria for training in the use of skis. The AIF ski school was situated above Becharre in the Lebanon Ranges at 1981 metres. The men were to take part in reconnaissance and fighting patrols and their training covered bivouacking above the snow line, tactics in offensive and defensive patrols, signalling and intelligence duties.
[AWM 011403]
Members of the Free French forces entering Damascus after Vichy forces surrendered the town on
21 June 1941. [AWM 009747]
‘The Mad Mile’, Jezzine, Lebanon 1941, William Dargie, 1970.
[Oil on canvas, 160 cm x 274.5 cm. AWM ART27683]

Trucks of the 7th Australian Division AIF under fire from Vichy French artillery on the section of road west of Jezzine known as the ‘Mad Mile’. All trucks had to run the gauntlet of Vichy French artillery and mortars on this stretch of road.