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
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 equipmentwithin 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”.
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 causedthe 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
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 concernedrelatives 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.
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
1956brought 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.