The World at War

Australian Ski Troops
by Garth

Over the long white hills they go,
Whish of the ski and spray of snow;
Death cannot halt for anything,
Death cannot wait for early spring.

Death in the snow is soft and sweet,
A blanket warm, a pristine sheet,
A drowsy morphine, heavy shroud,
The fleeting tombstone of a cloud.

Theirs is a world of lonely things,
A frightened fox, a whirr of wings,
A stifled echo through the trees,
The eerie whisperings of the breeze.

Onward they glide, in search of life,
Rucksack and rifle, compass and knife,
Theirs is no mountain health resort;
True, this is snow - but death the sport.

Lebanon, January 1942
NX 52009

Source: "Soldiering On - The Australian Army at home and overseas"
'prepared by some of the boys' - Australian War Memorial Press, 1942.
Page 71.

Australian Ski Troops

The fact of Australian Ski troops in World War Two is not very well known both here and abroad.

In 1941 Australian troops formed the majority of the British and Commonwealth forces taking part in their invasion of Vichy French held Syria. For the second time in 23 years - the Australian Infantryman was fighting the enemy in the "Holy Land".

The Australian 7th Division consisted the main Allied force in the bloody 5 week campaign against Vichy French, French Colonial and French Foreign Legionaires. The hilly and difficult terrain and conditions providing excellent defensive positions for the enemy.

Within the mountainous area inland from the Mediterranean Sea the high country of Syria and Lebanon is regulary under snowy conditions during the Winter months. The Australian command, realising the need for some form of mobile Infantry in snow country, formed the nucleus of a ski patrol from Australians with experience of ski-ing. Volunteers were sought from within the Division, snow equipment was provided from various sources and training staff allocated.

At the Cedars, one of the snow places of Lebanon, the ski patrol had its training camp, and in a short time had built up a force ready to take the field under Syria's most trying conditions. Their main purpose was reconaissance and patrolling of the mountinous range.

Fortunately, the ski patrol did not have to be used operationally against the enemy. They were disbanded late in 1941 and were placed back into their 'home' units within the 7th Division in time for their embarkation for another diverse, and mountainous battlefield. . .the Kokoda Trail.

The Australian infantry soldier adapted himself to many varied and trying conditions in World War Two - from the deserts of Libya and Egypt, to the jungles, swamps and heavy ranges of Papua and New Guinea and in the high snowy peaks of Syria and Lebanon.

Australian troops engaged in the Syrian campaign totalled 18,000. This compared with 9000 British, 2000 Indian and 5000 Free French. Australian casualities in the campaign totalled 1600, two Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross. 3Sqd RAAF provided the main fighter strength of the campaign, and the RAN's Perth, Stuart and Nizam provided valued support of the invasion.

Hopefully through this small article, I have raised some awareness of these unique diggers from both around Australia and throughout the world.

by Garth

"Soldiering On - The Australian Army at home and overseas" (see poem)
"Diggers - The Australian Army, Navy and Airforce in eleven wars", George Odgers, Landsdowne Press Sydney 1994. ISBN 1 86302 385 2

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