RAYNET history

RAYNET and other nationally-established voluntary organisations are an increasing part of the multi-agency response to major emergencies. This document has been prepared to help RAYNET officers to appreciate the roles and functions of organisations who are required to plan for integrated civil emergency management.

It was with this self-recognition in mind that radio amateurs offered their services to the community. The history that led to the formation of RAYNET goes back 70 years, whilst RAYNET as it now stands has its roots going back to 1953 and the fifty years following. Here follows the sequence of events …..…

1933 As early as 1933 the Radio Society of Great Britain was advocating an ‘Amateur Emergency Communications Service’. This proposition was promptly rejected out of hand by the authorities as being ‘unnecessary’.

1938 Serious flooding resulted when the North Sea broke through the ailing dune sea defences at Horsey in northeast Norfolk. Again the suggestion of amateur radio involvement was muted, and again rejected. As it came to be, all radio amateurs forfeited their licences and equipment within a year due to the advent of World War II whilst most of them were enlisted into the forces as skilled radio operators and technicians.

1950 Yet a further forceful approach by the RSGB in 1950 was again declined on grounds that a disaster could not happen in Britain. The powers-that-be emphatically stated that even should such a remote event come about then they would be adequately covered, stating, whatever the situation “we can cope”.

January 1953 On the night of 31st January 1953 came the East Coast Flood disaster when a sustained Force eleven northerly gale forced a sea rise of almost three metres above the normal high tide (a ‘North Sea Surge’). It caused the loss of over 100 lives in the County of Norfolk alone, where 5,000 homes were destroyed and 40,000 acres of arable land were flooded by the sea. In Essex, 37 people drowned at Jaywick where 7,000 people were left homeless. At Canvey Island 58 died and the entire population of 11,500 had to be evacuated. Three hundred and seven lives were lost throughout the United Kingdom, but over the other side of the raging North Sea in Holland and Belgium over 2,000 died. Two hundred ships were in distress in the North Sea at the same time as Humber Radio was flooded and off the air. It was the most widespread and devastating natural catastrophe in living memory, and, just as expected, the very first casualty was communications. It did happen and Britain decidedly could not cope!

At that time radio amateurs were not prepared and organised to deal with such disasters. Indeed they were not permitted to do so, as such activity by amateur radio operators was prohibited and thus seen as illegal in those days. The Postmaster General was responsible for the issue of radio amateur licences, and protected the Post Office message handling monopoly by dictating that only communications with other radio amateurs were permitted and that amateur radio stations were not to be used for “The sending of news or messages of for, on behalf of, or for the benefit or information of, any social, political, religious or commercial organization, or anyone other than the Licensee.” Furthermore the licence stated that the station “shall not be established within any dock, estuary or harbour, or in any moving vehicle, vessel or aircraft”.

But it was considered by a few amateur radio operators that under the dire circumstances prevailing in the 1953 emergency, life, limb and livelihood were paramount to outdated rules and regulations and that is was unlikely that the bureaucratic authorities would prosecute and cancel the licences of any so using their facilities in such vital circumstances. Some radio amateurs went ahead and did what had to be done, quietly, unheralded and in camera.

One local radio amateur on Humberside took over the marine emergency communication services of the lost Humber Radio. Two amateurs in Broadland who possessed home brew mobile 10m AM transmitter / receivers on their motor cycles managed to get through the flooded roads to aid the sorely stressed emergency services in organising essential medicines, food, water, re-housing and bedding in Great Yarmouth’s Southtown district. Working with the Police, Army, the Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, the still existing Civil Defence and the local authorities they took over part of the burden in reporting the status and responding to enquiries by concerned relatives whilst other inland radio amateurs away from the flooded areas passed on the messages and gave additional support. Two other radio amateurs in North Norfolk provided emergency radio communications between Cley and Holt. They were instrumental in passing messages that resulted in vitally needed food and clothing being sent from Dereham to that stricken area.

November 1953 Doug Willies G3HRK (then of Holt) recognised the difficulties that restricted the use of amateur radio in situations where it could play a vital role and set out to get recognition of the fact that radio amateurs well trained in communications could play an essential part in times of trouble. As a member of the committee formed by the Radio Society of Great Britain (the RSGB) he worked with the team to bring awareness in place of the surrounding restrictive bureaucracy to obtain full recognition of the organisation they founded, RAYNET, then called RAEN, the ‘Radio Amateur Emergency Network’. It is thanks to Doug Willies and his colleagues that RAYNET exists today and that we are now officially able to communicate and pass messages for and on behalf of the Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, the Emergency Planning Officer, the Police, Fire or Ambulance Services, Health Authority, Government Department or public utility, as well those working with or for these bodies.

1955 saw the commencement of regular Norfolk County RAYNET nets then on 80m CW, followed later that year by the first Sunday morning AM nets on 160m, later transferred to 2m.

1956 brought about the first ‘demonstration exercises’ with the Norfolk Police, this shortly followed by official permission being given to work with the BRCS on exercises, training exercises or disaster relief. This was a major breakthrough in that at last third party traffic handling had been sanctioned by officialdom.

Flood details facts and figures;
Area of damage: over 1000 miles of coastline damaged.
Sea defences and sea walls breached in over 1000 places.
Over 30 000 people were evacuated from their homes.
307 people were killed (over 1800 across in the Netherlands, around Zealand).
Over 20 000 homes were flooded
Power stations, gasworks, sewage works and water supplies were disrupted. Saltwater contaminated the water supply in Hunstanton.
100 miles of the road network was temporarily impassable, and 200 miles of railway network was out of action.
Over 40 000 head of livestock were lost.
Over 150 000 acres of farmland were inundated, and were not usable for several years.
Jobs were affected as over 200 industrial premises were damaged.
The damage was estimated at £50 million (1953 prices)

The Big Flood was the worst natural disaster to befall Britain during the twentieth century, and the scale of its human impact was due to the lack of adequate disaster preparedness. The 307 deaths on land were caused by drowning or from the effects of exposure. Two-thirds occurred in four clusters along the shoreline and mainly comprised inhabitants of post-war prefabricated buildings, bungalows and chalets, with the highest mortality among the elderly. The emergency response was spontaneous and community led.

This increases the official list of “User Services”. The current list is therefore:
The British Red Cross Society,
The St John Ambulance Brigade,
The St Andrew’s Ambulance Association,
The Women’s Royal Voluntary Service,
The Salvation Army,
The HM Coastguard.

Chief Emergency Planning Officer (“Chief Emergency Planning Officer” means an Emergency Planning Officer who is not responsible to any higher Emergency Planning Officer, such as a County, Regional or Islands Emergency Planning Officer) and any United Kingdom police force, fire or ambulance service, health authority, government department or public utility.