The articles on this site concerning RFA Hospital ships have, so far, detailed the work of the actual ships and their RFA crews. We must not forget that the ships were first and foremost floating hospitals and as such received and the Doctors and Medical teams treated patients who were mainly military personnel of the British Armed Forces and in the case of RFA Maine (4) these were, in addition, members of the United States Armed Forces fighting and who were injured in Korea.


The articles on this site concerning RFA Hospital ships have, so far, detailed the work of the actual ships and their RFA crews. We must not forget that the ships were first and foremost floating hospitals and as such received and the Doctors and Medical teams treated patients who were mainly military personnel of the British Armed Forces and in the case of RFA Maine (4) these were, in addition, members of the United States Armed Forces fighting and who were injured in Korea.

RFA Maine (3) was, for most of her service based in the Mediterranean and served with the Mediterranean Fleet. On the occasion related below Maine (3) found herself very much needed to provide treatment, care and comfort to members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines when disaster struck HMS Devonshire.

 

HMS Devonshire had been commissioned into the Royal Navy on 19 March 1929. Seventeen months after her launch, and on 11 May, after carrying out trials at Portland, she sailed for Gibraltar. After undergoing an eight-week work-up period at Gibraltar, on 8 July, she finally steamed east to Malta, arriving in Grand Harbour three days later.

 

 

HMS Devonshire

HMS Devonshire


Eight days after arriving on station, Devonshire and the rest of the Mediterranean Fleet sailed for manoeuvres in the Aegean Sea, off the island of Skiathos. Controlling the exercises was the C-in-C in his flagship HMS Royal Oak and also taking part were Queen Elizabeth, London and Sussex, together with units of the Third Destroyer Flotilla. Arriving off Skiathos on 21 July the fleet lay at anchor, and while the senior officers planned the forthcoming manoeuvres the sailors were granted recreational leave for 'picnic and bathing parties'.


When they got under way Devonshire and the destroyer’s practised torpedo firing, after which there was gunnery practice. At 0800 on Friday 26 July the fleet weighed anchor, and within minutes London, Sussex and Devonshire had formed a single line ahead in order to carry out a full calibre shoot. At 08.45 there was a flurry of manoeuvring as Sussex, which was rejoining the line, almost collided with Devonshire; the latter’s stem did in fact touch Sussex's port quarter, but no damage was done and the exercise continued.

At 10.00 exactly Devonshire fired her first broadside, but practically simultaneously a huge explosion shook the ship. A faulty breech mechanism in X turret had caused a shell and some cordite bags to ignite, and the force of the explosion blew the roof off the gun turret and started fires in the gun house and pump room. Fortunately these were soon extinguished, but the explosion took a heavy toll of the Royal Marines who were manning the turret.

One officer and six men were killed instantly, one of them being blown overboard. Devonshire, meanwhile, made for the Greek port of Volos where seventeen injured men were transferred to the hospital ship RFA Maine (3). However, eleven of these subsequently died and sixteen of the victims were buried at Volos with full military honours.

 

 

HMS Devonshire Memorial

 


Devonshire, with the guns of X turret awry, returned to Malta and from there proceeded to Devonport where, on 14 August 1929, her tragic first commission ended.

 

Those members of Devonshire’s crew who were killed or injured were: -

Fatalities - Royal Marines


Captain John Arthur Bath D.S.C. † Killed Outright
Sergeant William Ernest Snell ¤ Missing, presumed drowned
Corporal Edward Bacon † Killed outright
Corporal Joseph E. Barber † Died on board RFA Maine
Corporal James Levins † Killed Outright
Marine James W. Blackman † Died on board RFA Maine
Marine Joseph S. Brindle † Died on board RFA Maine
Marine Samuel Goldsmith † Died on board RFA Maine
Marine Frank Grindle † Died on board RFA Maine
Marine Edward C. Harris † Died on board RFA Maine
Marine William Ernest Hellyer ‡ Died on board RFA Maine
Marine William George Hole † Died on board HMS Devonshire
Marine Augustus Alexander MacDonald † Died on board HMS Devonshire
Marine John Tossel Old † Died on board RFA Maine
Marine Lionel R. Taylor † Died on board RFA Maine
Marine Frank Williams † Died on board RFA Maine

Fatality - Royal Navy


Ordnance Artificer Arthur C. Edwards † Died on board RFA Maine


Injuries - Royal Marines


Corporal L.E. Elliott Hospitalised on HMS Devonshire
Corporal G.C. Pengelly Hospitalised on HMS Devonshire
Acting Corporal Charles Percival Wickenden ± Hospitalised on RFA Maine
Marine T. Agar Hospitalised on HMS Devonshire
Marine A. Brimblecombe Hospitalised on RFA Maine
Marine F. Chalice Hospitalised on HMS Devonshire
Marine W.J. Elliott Hospitalised on HMS Devonshire
Marine J. Hallam Hospitalised on RFA Maine
Marine G.H. Harkcom Hospitalised on RFA Maine
Marine E.F. Hymen Hospitalised on RFA Maine
Marine W. Smith Hospitalised on HMS Devonshire
Marine Albert Edward Streams ° Hospitalised on HMS Devonshire

Injuries - Royal Navy


Chief Petty Officer R.E. Jenns Hospitalised on HMS Devonshire
L/S/A W.G. Eason Hospitalised on HMS Devonshire
Able Seaman A.E. Haley Hospitalised on HMS Devonshire
Able Seaman [?] J. Smith Hospitalised on RFA Maine
O/S O.C. Mason Hospitalised on HMS Devonshire

† Buried in the Naval Reservation at Volos, 27th July, 1929.
¤ Commemorated in the Memorial in the Naval Reservation at Volos. Sgt. Snell's body was never recovered, despite HMS Sussex and HMS Frobisher searching the area for the rest of the day.
‡ Buried in the Naval Reservation at Volos, 29th July, 1929.
± Act. Cpl. Wickenden later died of his injuries in Malta, probably at Bighi Royal Naval Hospital. He was buried at Kalkara Naval Cemetery on 4th September, 1929, in Plot D, Grave 586.
° Marine Streams was later awarded the Albert Medal in recognition of his part in rescuing casualties from the turret.

 

Lieutenant-Commander (later Captain) Alexander Henry Maxwell-Hyslop, HMS Devonshire's Gunnery Officer, was awarded the Albert Medal in recognition of his immediate response to the explosion. He entered the turret whilst it was still on fire and directed the evacuation of the wounded, despite the imminent threat of further explosions, the fire, smoke and toxic fumes. His Albert Medal was exchanged in 1971 for the George Cross.

Marine Albert Edward Streams, one of the crew from HMS Devonshire's 'X' turret, was awarded the Albert Medal in recognition of his response to the explosion. Having survived the initial blast, he recognised that there were wounded men still in the damaged turret, which he helped evacuate, before getting himself to safety.

Midshipman (later Commander) Anthony John Cobham accompanied Lt-Cmdr Maxwell-Hyslop into the turret, assisting in the evacuation of casualties. He showed "marked initiative, coolness and pluck for an officer of his age". In recognition, he was awarded the Medal of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for Gallantry, more popularly known as the Empire Gallantry Medal. His Empire Gallantry Medal was exchanged in 1971 for the George Cross.

Able Seaman George Paterson Niven accompanied Lt-Cmdr Maxwell-Hyslop and Midshipman Cobham into the turret, assisting in the evacuation of casualties. This included descending into the lower decks of the turret, when he heard a casualty calling out for help. In recognition, he was awarded the Medal of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for Gallantry, more popularly known as the Empire Gallantry Medal. His Empire Gallantry Medal was exchanged in 1971 for the George Cross.

 

Acknowledgement is given to

www.rjerrard.co.uk

www.royalnavymemories.com

www.gc-database.co.uk/index.htm

www.roll-of-honour.com

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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