Life as a Royal Naval officer during the First World War – The journal and photographs of Commander Geoffrey Middleton Randall Rayne

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July 2015’s Item of the Month looks at the journal and photo album of Commander Geoffrey Middleton Randall Rayne.

Rayne served in a number of vessels during the First World War and was present during the Dardanelles campaign. He also served with the Grand Fleet in several ships including HMS Hercules and HMS Resolution and witnessed the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet at the conclusion of the war.
Rayne was obviously a keen photographer as all of his journals, including those from the very beginning of his naval career in 1897 contain numerous photographs. Thankfully he continued with this hobby, producing an album that chronologically follows his service throughout the First World War with photographs covering various aspects of life at sea including ships going into battle, visits to the Grand Fleet by the King and even photographs of the ship’s cat.
There are also many photographs from his time on leave, particularly of time spent at home with his family. Accompanying this is a journal in which he recorded his thoughts on the conflict and daily life. It also includes some naval signals along with almost daily reports on all aspects of the war in the form of newspaper cuttings.
From July 1915 through to June 1916 Rayne was acting commander of HMS Hector, a kite balloon ship providing spotting assistance for warships bombarding Ottoman positions onshore at the Dardanelles. During this period his journal reflects how boring life at sea during the war could be with a combination of bad weather and worn out equipment keeping them out of action for months, an experience Rayne clearly found extremely frustrating.
December 16th 1915:
Left yesterday in a drizzle with balloon ¾ inflated – wind came up during night & we had to deflate. Arrived here 8am. At 10:30 went to see the RA & repeated balloon unfit for use & find we are wanted to spot off Anzac on Sunday… …they should not mess us about like this. Now here we are with no balloon available & the canvas balloon awning ripped to atoms last night, the gas plant on its last legs and the balloon wire well worn… We lie here doing nothing for 7 solid weeks while we ought to have been refitting properly at a dockyard & should have been ready for work now instead of used up & useless…
There were also occasional moments of danger as Ottoman shore based artillery targeted Hector or when an enemy aeroplane attempted to bomb the ship and destroy its balloon:
March 1 1916:
The balloon had not been up 5 minutes when a Hun aeroplane came near at only about 3000ft & dropped two bombs at us, both about 50 to 100 yards off to port, one exploded. They also fired with a maxim at the basket, dirty dogs!!
With the allies having withdrawn from the Dardanelles early in 1916 Hector was finally sent home and arrived in Plymouth on 15 of April. Rayne then managed to spend some time on leave and see his wife and daughters both of whom were very young and had little to no memory of him. Due to the war he had been away for most of their lives to that point:
Wednesday 26 April 1916:
My next excitement was to see my new daughter. Of course Elizabeth didn’t remember me, but her mother had kept me “green” and she was not a bit shy – Susan was very quiet with me for a long time, not exactly shy, but appeared rooted to the ground whenever I put in an appearance. Claudine and I had taken the precaution to buy some toys at Plymouth for them and these I presented with due ceremony. The two of them together make a very smart pair, Elizabeth so dark and Susan so fair. I feel sure both will be pretty in their different ways.
Rayne would then spend the remainder of the war with the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, in various ships but mainly the battleship HMS Resolution as a navigating officer. Having spent so much time in the Mediterranean with nothing to do he seems to have craved some action and was very disappointed to have missed the Battle of Jutland:
I shall always regret that I missed what now appears likely to be the only big fleet action of the war. The Germans may give us another chance, but it’s improbable.
At the end of the war he was present for the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet and his journal conveys how astonishing it must have been for people to think that the war might finally be over.
November 11th 1918:
The armistice was signed today and hostilities ceased from 11am. It seems almost impossible to believe.
November 21st 1918:
It’s been the most wonderful day. In fact I still cannot realize that what has happened is real.
The collection is listed online here but is not currently orderable via the Archive Catalogue. If you wish to view the Rayne collection please speak to a member of staff.
Mark Benson, Library Assistant

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