Account of Capt John Wagstaff, 225 PFA, Normandy, 6 June 1944
Account of Capt Wagstaff, 225 PFA, Normandy, 6 June 1944
225 Parachute Field Ambulance was formed at Castle Cary in June 1943, taking its name from 225 Light Field Ambulance, of Guards Armoured Division which had been disbanded in January that year. The 225 Para Field Ambulance would be attached to 5th Parachute Brigade, of the new 6th Airborne Division.
After extensive training, 225 PFA first saw action during Op Overlord, sent to Normandy in support of 5th Parachute Brigade. The Brigade had been tasked with seizing, and holding bridges over the River Orne and Caen Canal near Ranville and Benouville, secondly to secure and hold the area around these two villages and that of Le Bas de Ranville, where 225 would establish their Main Dressing Station(MDS).
225 PFA dropped into France at about 0120hrs on the morning of 6 June 1944. By around 0230, most had reached the unit successfully and joined the rear of the 12th (Yorks) Parachute Battalion heading for Le Bas de Ranville. Here they commandeered the local chateau and established their MDS by about 0400hrs, with the first casualties arriving soon afterwards. The Sections attached to the Battalions tasked with securing the Bridges (including the Caen Bridge - later known as Pegasus Bridge) after initial glider landings, had faired rather worse. Conditions were worsened by sporadic sniperfire around one temporary Aid Station, whilst another Section suffered relatively heavy casualties during the initial drops. Despite these problems Cpt Vaughan, a Medical Officer attached to gliders acting as the coup de main force, had successfully established an effective MDS in the vicinity which despite limited resources, dealt well with the relatively large number of wounded from the men in the area. In the first 40 hours, this MDS performed 43 operations with a pretty good survival rate, before the link with 8th Field Ambulance, of 3rd Division enabled the evacuation of casualties to medical facilities and at bridgehead established by the amphibious assault during D-Day. 225 Para Field Ambulance continued to serve in Normandy for the rest of the campaign, before being withdrawn to the UK with the rest of the Division in September 1944. It would not be long until their skill, dedication and ingenuity would be called upon again.
In the winter of 1944-5, 225 Para Field Ambulance deployed with 6th Airborne to help stem the German counter-offensive in the Ardennes region. As part of 5th Parachute Brigade, 225 PFA were involved in the Battle of Bure in early-January 1945. Once more, their medics distinguished themselves during the intense fighting and during the coming weeks, where the perils of the weather conditions often worsened the fighting conditions for Divisional troops.
Withdrawn to the UK in February 1945, this proved a brief respite before the unit would be called on to jump into action once more. 5th Parachute Brigade, with 225 PFA supporting, were to drop north of the forest at Diersfordterwald on 24 March 1945. Although the flight was relatively uneventful and most troops landed at their intended DZ, ground fire and mortar attacks take their toll on landing. The 225 PFA were able to set up in a large farm on the outskirts of the Diersfordterwald, and soon had two surgical teams working to assist with the high casualties in the first few hours of the Operation before conditions swiftly improved. When the Division ADMS Col MacEwan arrived with troops from 15 (Scottish) Division late on 25 March, he confirmed the beachhead had been secured and the evacuation of casualties from the frontline could begin.
225 remained active during the March to the Baltic however. Col MacEwan oversaw a system which involved 225, 224 Para Field Ambulance and 195 Airlanding Field Ambulance working in tandem to look after casualties across all units of the advancing 6th Airborne Division troops. Despite some teething problems, and difficulties created by supporting troops travelling 30-40 miles a day at times, the units functioned in this new role very effectively. 225 eventually admitted 1,083 casualties during the first 28 days after landing in Germany.
On arrival in Wismar in early May 1945, 225 played their part creating aid stations which served not only Allied personnel, but also German troops returning from the Eastern front and the civilian population.
225 was withdrawn with the rest of the Division back to the UK in late-May 1945, in preparation for transit to the Far East. 225 PFA joined the 5th Parachute Brigade in the Far East, via India, to assist in the restoration of civil government and public order. The unit was stationed at Semarang, in Java, Indonesia until the role was completed and the Brigade disbanded in early 1946.
225 PFA returned to 6th Airborne Division in Palestine during June 1946, before being disbanded shortly afterwards.
1944 Lt Col E Harvey
With assistance from Niall Cherry - grateful thanks to the Student Volunteer TeamRead More
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