History Part 1

     A short history of the origins of the Broadland and North

     Norfolk Radio Amateur Emergency Network - RAYNET

When disasters occur, the first casualties are those essential communications so vitally needed to provide relief, target supplies of food, bedding, clothing, medical supplies, to provide housing and to organise evacuation. Power lines, local electricity supplies and telephones are almost invariably lost at the very time they are most required.  

Radio amateurs are ideally placed for such emergency communications provision as they are fully accustomed to ‘Field Days’ in which a fully operational station with worldwide contact possibilities has to be set up within four hours for twenty four hours continuous operation. This included transmitter and receiver establishment, antenna erection, independent power supply generation, self-catering, camping type accommodation and full operational equipment provision in very remote locations.

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 …..…


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’.


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.


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 January 31st 1953 came the East Coast Flood disaster when a sustained Force 11 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 devasting 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 invitally needed food and clothing being sent from Dereham to that strickened 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.

History Part 1

Back to Top ^^

History Part 2

More >>

Events of 2013