The Oldest Ship in the Navy
Built in 1902 as the Pacific Steam Navigation Company “Panama”, His Majesty’s hospital ship “Maine” was, in 1945, probably the oldest ship serving with the Royal Navy. Bought in 1920 and equipped for her hospital ship duties, she replaced two earlier ships named “Maine” one of which was presented to Britain by the ladies of the State of Maine, USA during the Boer War and was lost in 1914.
RFA “Maine” served exclusively as a hospital ship to the Mediterranean Fleet except for a period in 1927, when she went to China during naval operations there.
Her career was not uneventful. In peacetime she accompanied the Mediterranean Fleet on its cruises for the accommodation and treatment of Naval patients, though during the Spanish Civil War she carried on a two year mission of mercy when she made routine voyages between the Alicante, Valencia and Barcelona to Marseilles with refugee Spanish women and children.
North African Campaign
During the Second World War she served as Base Hospital Ship at Alexandria and suffered casualties when the harbour was bombed. One of her Medical Officers was killed as were four Maltese ratings. Later, during the ebb and flow of the fighting along the coasts of Libya and Cyrenaica, she was continuously used for the evacuation of casualties from the advanced ports, including Tobruk, and distinguished herself by the speed with which the wounded were embarked.
In Greek Waters
In 1943, during the operations which resulted in the occupation of Sicily and the invasion of Italy, RFA Maine steamed some 24,000 miles while evacuating wounded from the beaches. The end of the year saw her serving as a Naval Hospital at Malta, while she was later employed as a Base Hospital and for evacuation duties from Piraeus. She was no stranger to Greece where in peacetime she often accompanied the Mediterranean Fleet on its cruises.
Team of Specialists
In 1945 the ship was commanded by Captain R. Grimer, D.S.C. R.F.A. who was Master of the RFA Dewdale during the occupation of North Africa, and received his decoration for courage and determination during repeated air attacks in which his ship destroyed at least two enemy aircraft. The Principal Medical Officer and Surgical Specialist had a complete team of Specialists on board while the ship had a modern dental surgery, with equipment for facio-auxillary work, and she also carried a Chaplain and four Nursing Sisters. She was well stocked with what was, at the time that modern panacea of the day, penicillin. Before sailing for Greece she embarked Red Cross supplies and fresh quantities of blood from the Army Blood transfusion centre at Malta.
RFA Maine arrived at McLellans, at Bo’Ness for breaking up on the 8th July 1948, she was replaced in the Fleet by another hospital ship bearing the proud name RFA Maine, but that is a story for another time.