RAYNET  in Humberside 


During the nineteen-seventies there were several active RAYNET groups in the newly-formed county of Humberside. One active group was centred in Hornsea covering the East Coast with another group in Goole. The Goole group covered the Goole, Selby and Thorne districts and started to become more active in the middle of the decade. As there were few other groups to the west and north, it also took part in emergency exercises with North Yorkshire County Council. During Exercise 'Square Leg' in 1980 Goole Raynet provided a link between Selby District Council and County HQ in Northallerton using 2 metres SSB and a 6 element beam on the roof of the building. 

Both groups  worked together with Humberside Council during the snow emergency of 1979, with mobiles reporting snow depths. The Goole group participated in the 'County Comms' series of exercises linking parts of Humberside together during 1979/80. This used HF and the then-new GB3HS VHF repeater as well as 144Mhz FM. Humberside had a well-developed emergency planning system that went back to earliest days of the new county.


Baptism of Fire

On Saturday 1st June 1974, a chemical plant in Flixborough in Humberside exploded with a force equivalent of 16 tons of TNT. At the time, it was said to be Britain's largest peacetime explosion, injuring hundreds and killing 28 people. Fires burned for ten days, a toxic cloud was released and over 2000 homes were damaged. The disaster occurred two months after the formation of the County of Humberside, who had inherited police, fire, and medical services from the councils of the West Riding, City of Hull, East Riding, Lindsey and Grimsby. The need for an unified response to emergencies across the Humber was made very apparent by the disaster, and led to a rapid reorganization of services and the introduction of a Humberside Emergency Planning Unit. The Unit was keen to involve volunteers and discussions started about amateur radio involvement.

By the early 'eighties the various Raynet groups, across Humberside, were also co-operating together informally, and discussions began about working together with the council. With the support of Humberside Council's Emergency planning team, they unified in 1983 in what became the Humberside County Raynet Association (HCRA). This was a volunteer communications organization, with the main 'user service' being the council. Chair of the HCRA was RSGB president Joan Heathershaw G4CHH. a member of the  emergency planning team (usually the deputy CEPO) was present at all meetings, which were held in the meeting room at the Humberside Emergency Planning HQ. It is important to note that each group retained its independence as the HCRA was 'federal' and made up of local groups.


Humberside Council took its Emergency Planning role very seriously. It was determined to learn from the response to the Flixborough disaster. The first Chief Emergency Planning Officer (CEPO) was Eric Alley, who rapidly organised a very effective team. The service was under the direct supervision of the councillors on the Public Protection Committee. The Emergency Planning service was based at Wawne, a village to the north of Kingston upon Hull.                                                                

ThThe Wawne building (NGR TA 091 370) was originally built in the 1950’s as a Royal Artillery  'Anti Aircraft Artillery Operations Room' (AAOR) semi-sunken bunker, to be operated by 5 group ( Air-Defence) 17 Brigade. The building was never used as its artillery systems were outdated before it was completed and in 1955 anti aircraft defence was transferred to the RAF. It lay abandoned, and was then modified in the 1970s to become the emergency HQ of Humberside County Council and the offices for the CEPO. 

The 'above ground’ offices housed the emergency planning team, and the floor below was the emergency centre. By the early 1980s it had communications links to government RSGs and the UKWMO network, with direct links to 15 Group HQ (Lincoln) and 20 Group HQ (York). There were hardened links to the military and all radio systems were protected against EMP. It had telephone and data links to district council emergency HQs throughout the county. The HCRA manned the links to the district centres and mobile teams. Newspapers often described the building as a 'bunker' or 'shelter', but its protection factor was low. Windows had been cut into the thick walls for the offices, and the roof was thin and leaky in places.

                                                                        The HCRA stand at the Hornsea Rally in 1988

                                                                         (manned by Pete Loten and Peter Sheppard)

When fully staffed, as well as the team of emergency planners and scientific advisors, there were offices for the military, utility services, police, fire brigade and ambulance services as well as the health authorities, and a studio for BBC Radio Humberside. The HQ was in modern terms both 'gold' and 'silver' command, and in the event of a disaster, could be up and running in hours. For civil protection purposes, it was held at 'seven days' readiness and would be operational from the first few days of transition from peacetime.  The HCRA would have staffed communications at this and emergency district centres in shifts. The building was fully air-conditioned, contained a Faraday cage for telephone and some radio equipment and was equipped with a kitchen and rest rooms as well as a suite of offices. There were rooms for each of the various services, including HCCs own scientific advisers. The main 'well' area was equipped with detailed maps of the county showing the various risk sites as well as ROC monitoring posts and sirens. The centre was located in a wooded compound, with large garages and a parking area.


                       Humberside Emergency Planning HQ 1995                                                  Photo :Nick Catford

                The various MOD MOULD and other antennas antennas can be seen clearly on the MOD mast. The links to the
                districts HQs on  432/ 144/ 70Mhz are on the mast to the R of the photograph. The airlock main door can be seen                

                 clearly and the air-ducts are visible on the walls and roof.

                                                                                STANDARD HCRA COMCEN EQUIPMENT 

  • Yaesu FT 230R 25w VHF transceiver with mike and Airlite headset 
  • Yaesu FT 730R UHF  transceiver with mike and Airlite headset 
  • Burndept (two channel) PMR set on 70Mhz for teleprinter and ‘last ditch’ voice communications
  • 2X Creed 444 teleprinters and a teleprinter terminal unit (later replaced by a Tiny 2 Packet Radio terminal and a terminal unit with monitor and keyboard.  This system was problematic and not as reliable as the teleprinters)
  • Welz Power/SWR meterTelephone system and terminal.
  •  70Mhz folded dipole
  • 144Mhz folded dipol

Some stations were established with a dual band (432/144) colinear and antenna switch *Additionally, there were sets of 'handheld' VHF and UHF radios in storage at Wawne, as well as some auxiliary PMR equipment. 

                        The Comcen in the Wawne HQ  1996                                                                    Photo: Nick Catford

                     This photograph taken at the end of the HCRA's existence shows the empty radio and teleprinter bays.
                     The small shelf on the pillar in the foreground is for the WB 1400 carrier warning receiver.

 Wawne HQ Layout


                                                            Ground Level        


                                                                     Below Ground

                                                                    Approximate layout of the Wawne EP Headquarters in 1988


The HCRA committee made up of representatives from the RAYNET groups throughout  the county, and met regularly. It was an association of the various groups, which still had a degree of individual autonomy. There were sub- committees on equipment (mainly concerned with the maintenance of the radio gear and the purchase of new items), training and exercises. Training officers received a 'train the trainers' session with the Army at ASMT Leconfield, based on Methods and Techniques of Instruction. Some members were selected to attend courses at the then Civil Defence college at Easingwold. Regular meetings, exercises and training sessions meant that the HCRA was highly effective. The HCC Emergency Planning Team joined in the various national warning and monitoring exercises, often held by UKWMO over a weekend. These involved crewing up Wawne and usually one district centre. 

                                                                       The Humberside Council HCRA Identity Card     Photo :  Steve Price                                               

                                                                         (Note the Orange/Blue International Civil Defence colours)

                                                                                                 The RAYNET equivalent
Communication Tests

On the first Monday of the month, communications links were tested between the various district communications centres by  a 'communications test evening, otherwise known in the group as a 'Comtest'.. This routine test of voice and teleprinter systems  took place on  70.345Mhz ,  144.800Mhz (later 144.825 Mhz) and 433.775Mhz  at 20h00 local time. Initial calls were made by control station G4UWE (Wawne) and net signal reports were passed. Voice and teleprinter messages were tested and phone lines were checked.  After this, routine checks were made on equipment and a brief training session usually followed. This procedure was carried out from 1984 until  stand-down in 1994. There was some interference from Raynet groups in West and South Yorkshire on 144.800Mhz which caused difficulty to the Goole and Scunthorpe stations. Traffic was later changed to the reserve channel of 144.825Mhz, the then alternative Raynet frequency.                                                                                                              

                                      Communications Test Frequencies                                                               

  • 4 metres               70.345Mhz     (teleprinter and speech)                                          
  • 2 metres main      144.800Mhz                                                              
  •  2 metres reserve 144.825Mhz                                                               
  • 70 centimetres      433.775Mhz   (used to link mobiles)                                                               


                                         HCRA   Communications Centres 

Wawne             G4UWE   (Control station established at ('County Main' in Wawne Comcen of HCC EP HQ)

Beverley          G4UBY     (Beverley (EY) District Council Offices)

Bridlington       G4UBN     (North Wolds (EY) District Council Offices)

Driffield           G4UDD    (North Wolds (EY) District Council Offices)

Pocklington      G4UPN     (North Wolds (EY)District Council Offices)

Brigg                 G4UBG      (Glanford District Council, Hewson House, Brigg)

Scunthorpe      G4USE     (Scunthorpe Council) no comcen established (Located in Scunthorpe Hospital))

Cleethorpes     G4UCS     (Cleethorpes District Council Comcen – not crewed up)

Grimsby           G4UGY     ((Great Grimsby District Council )Comcen – seldom crewed up) ('County Standby HCC EP  HQ)

Skirlaugh          G4USH      (Holderness District Council Offices)Withernsea      G4UWE      (Holderness District Council)

Goole               G4UGE      (Boothferry District Council - temporarily located in the West Park Pavilion )

Hull                  G4UHL       (Kingston upon Hull City Council) nuclear-free zone-   no comcen established

              Wawne and the Comcens, showing how they fitted into the UKWMO network                                                 


                                                     Goole Comcen 1989                                                                                                  G4UGE

The photograph above shows the Goole Communications Centre G4UGE. The empty 'bays' for 432, 144 and 70Mhz  rigs with 'Radphone' PSUs can be seen here below the Humberside Council HCRA map showing the various district and parish council areas. The sharp-eyed will notice the HCRA ‘standard operational practice’ radio manual on the desk and a spare teleprinter paper tape on the shelf above. The Creed 444 Telex units were so noisy they were moved to another room! Antennas at Goole were a dual band colinear, a 2 metre folded dipole and 70Mhz folded dipole. There was also a Welz power/SWR meter and antenna switch to allow antenna substitution. 


                                                       'How to Fill in the AN123 message form' from the early days of the HCRA

Of course, the question must be asked why a council emergency centre was located in a Park. During this period, in the Cold War, the Boothferry Council offices in Stanhope Street were next to Goole Docks, which was prone to flooding and a a major Soviet target.  There was disagreement between HCC and Boothferry about the location of the emergency HQ. From 1984 the semi-abandoned, vandalised park pavilion was a temporary home to Goole Raynet, with an understanding that in a national emergency, the council would evacuate to a large country house to the west of the town, and the radio equipment would rapidly follow. 


                                                                The West Park Pavilion Goole ( picture taken in 1997)

Some comcens were never fitted with radio equipment (Pocklington), although they retained antennas and others were 'crewed- up' on a temporary basis for exercises (Cleethorpes). 


                          Skirlaugh Communications Centre     1995                                                Photo: Nick Catford

Most comcens were located in district council emergency HQs. Some were 'hardened' in protected buildings. The Holderness District Council Emergency HQ at Skirlaugh was in the main office block, but a hardened emergency HQ (above) was built in 1989 to a high standard but was never used by the emergency planning team or the HCRA.


                          Wawne HCC EP HQ    'The Well' training and control area                                                              Photo: Nick Catford

Of course, the intense nature of training and involvement meant that there was little time for ‘events’, such as charity walks and horse rides which by the 1990s had become the staple of many RAYNET groups. That is not to say that the HCRA didn’t get involved in event support, as it did support the RAC Rally and its constituent groups became involved in local events. there were various emergency planning exercises, involving Pollution Control, 'blue light services' in train crash (Barnetby) and air crash (Kilham) scenarios, as well as an evacuation exercise (Allerthorpe) involving the WRVS. 

                 HCC Emergency Planning:  Large scale multi-agency exercise with Air Crash scenario 1992 at Kilham in the North of the county.

For some however, the heavy involvement in emergency planning wasn’t for them, and seeking a more event-related activity, they left the HCRA and set up another Raynet group aiming to cover one part of the county. As in the rest of the country, the 'split' between the national society and the national emergency radio group played itself out by creating division at local level. The HCRA was also evolving at this time as the lessening of threats at the end of the eighties meant that the organisation re-focused on civil contingencies.  

On the 10 July 1991, the then Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, announced to parliament that the services of the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation (UKWMO) were no longer required. Home Office support to local authorities was reduced and budgets were cut. Regular Comcen checks ceased later and most council communications centres were placed on 'care and maintenance' basis, with some equipment being returned to central store. Emergency Planning was now based on a 'all hazards approach' and became less of a priority as the end of the county approached, although the dangers from flooding and industrial accidents were still acknowledged. Coupled with this, the future of the county lay in doubt, and during the early 1990s political interference led to the removal of the word County from the HCRA title, recognising the split between the banks of the Humber and the reduction in local authority involvement. The new HRA focussed itself on civil contingencies with exercises based on train and aircraft incidents. 


                                                                The Humberside County crest with the motto ' United We Flourish'



Divided We Fall

There was worse to come. As the HRA settled into its new role, it was announced that the County would be abolished, to be replaced by four of the new 'unitary' authorities, who would take on the emergency planning role.  Humberside Council ceased on the 31st March 1996,  and the Emergency Planning Unit was closed. The district centres were handed over to the successor unitary authorities. Many of the new organisations had challenges in taking over a wide variety of functions. For many it was a struggle to provide day to day services, let alone provide planning for emergencies. 

Many of the buildings were adapted for new uses by their new owners. Most of the comcens were gutted and re-purposed.  For example, the brand-new hardened Skirlaugh comcen became an archive store. Wawne was abandoned. It was later used as a police training centre for a period and the land around the bunker was sold off  after 2000 to become the 'Cedar Court' housing area. The emergency centre was converted to a bungalow (albeit with very thick walls),and still stands today. It is unknown if there is access to lower levels. 

Discussions about forming a 'Humber Raynet' proved difficult as without the unifying  support of the local authority, most groups concentrated on their local area.  This was also coupled with the divisions between the national radio society and the national emergency radio group. Talk was of division rather than unification. 


After months of negotiation, In June 1997, a  meeting was called by the HCRA controller Duncan Heathershaw G3TLI and RSGB president Pete Sheppard GEJP to reorganise the HRA for changed times. The aim was to keep the best features of the group, and to avoid a power struggle. It was proposed to keep the group going until the new authorities built up their emergency planning units. 

The protracted meeting did not go well, with local groups from the South Bank, Hornsea, Goole and the then East Yorkshire Raynet failing to reach an agreement and going their own way. That was the end of the HRA/ HCRA.                                             


Like other ex HCRA groups, the Hornsea and Goole  groups continued to work informally for many years, covering their parts of the East Riding. At Goole, the antennas and systems stayed in place, but there were no other stations in the Humberside network to communicate with. It was the last comcen to exist and it remained at the West Park until two years after the end of the HCRA in July 1998 when it too was stripped and abandoned. The building has now returned to its original purpose and is the Park Cafe. Customers can sit where the teleprinters once clattered, and ice creams are served where the UHF and VHF radios stood!  For a while, that seemed to be the end of the story....


                                                 Press Cutting 1999

Grateful thanks to Nick Catford, Steve Price, Ken McCann, Colin Niles and Andy Russell for permission to use their  photographs


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