The first Parachute Field Ambulance, 16 Para Field Ambulance, was raised in 1941 and was followed shortly afterwards by 127 Parachute Field Ambulance, which was the forerunner of 23 PFA, and became operational on 17 July 1942.
Initially deployed to North Africa in 1943 as part of the 1st Airborne Division the early days were spent rehearsing for the Allied invasion of Italy, which took place in September 1943, where it remained in support of 2nd Parachute Brigade until July 1944.
In August of that year, the unit participated in the airborne assault into Southern France for Operation ANVIL, designed to divert the Germans from the main sea-borne landing forces in Normandy.
After this successful action, 127 PFA returned to Italy with 2nd Parachute Brigade for re-equipping and reorganization before its next task. This was not long in coming and, in October 1944, the brigade parachuted into Greece as civil war erupted. Extremely high winds, coupled with harsh terrain, made the initial parachute insertion very difficult and a large number of casualties were incurred (one battalion group suffered 27% casualties). 127 PFA was in constant action throughout the civil war, not returning to Italy until February 1945.
After a short recuperation period in Italy, 127 PFA withdrew as part of 2nd Parachute Brigade to the UK, where it joined 6th Airborne Division. The relief at the imminent end of the war in Europe quickly disappeared when 6th Airborne Division was deployed to Palestine in September 1945.
This was a particularly dangerous period during which the Jewish groups fighting for the creation of the independent state of Israel sought to dishearten the British by carrying out indiscriminate terrorist attacks. The unit spent some 15 months in Palestine, not returning to the UK until January 1947. As part of the reorganization of the British Army, the designation “127” was returned to the Territorial Army and on 1 April 1947, the unit was officially redesignated as 23 Parachute Field Ambulance.
Further detail on the history of the Airborne Medical Services can be found in the book ‘On Wings of Healing’ by Howard Cole.
|Lt Col M J Kohane MC||Jul 1942 - Oct 1943|
|Lt Col P Parkinson||Oct 1943 - Aug 1945|
|Lt Col F Murray||Aug 1945 - Jan 1946|
|Lt Col D Rowlands||Jan 1946 - Oct 1946|
|Lt Col D Allenby||Oct 1946 - not specified|
Unit history created with kind assistance of Lt Col Jez Hair
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