Researched and written by Anne Wright
2/Lt H E W Rayner
3rd Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry; attd. 6th Battalion
Killed in Action, 17.3.1917
Junior British Officers survived, on average, six weeks in the bloodiest periods on the Western Front – Haydn Eric William Rayner joined his battalion at the front on 13 March 1917; four days later he was killed. He was born in Chelsea on 11 August 1891 to William Henry and Fanny Gertrude (nee Osborn) Rayner. Haydn’s father had drowned at sea off Bishopstone on 1 April 1891. The empty boat was discovered by the Coastguards containing just his coat and watch. Henry Rayner had been very ill and it was feared that an operation had not been successful. Besides his wife and baby son he left another son, Cecil John, aged one. The family lived at London House, 54 William Street in Herne Bay from where Henry ran a large drapery business employing six staff which he had bought in 1882 six years before his marriage to Fanny Osborn at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, Kensington and Chelsea on 26 April 1888. Haydn was baptized on 11 September 1891 in the same church. His widowed mother was only 23 years old.
In 1901 Haydn and his brother attended school in Bramshaw in Hampshire; ten years later they were both bank clerks living with their mother at 72, Albany Mansions, Albert Bridge Road, London SW. Shortly after the 1911 Census was taken Haydn left for India from Liverpool aboard the Elysia travelling via Gibraltar and Port Said to Bombay (Mumbai). He was 19 years old and journeying alone. Haydn’s occupation in India is not known neither is the date of his return to Britain but his Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry records that ‘he returned to join the colours’. He married Phyllis Yolande Mack at St Paul’s Church, Princes Park, Liverpool on 23 August 1916 at which point he was already a 2/Lt in the 3rd Battalion of the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry. Haydn entered the French theatre of war on 24 February 1917 but did not go into the front line until three weeks later.
He was now attached to his regiment’s 6th Battalion, his previous unit having been home based. His new battalion had been on the Western Front since 1915 and had experienced fighting in the Ypres Salient and on the Somme which is where Haydn joined them in the Morval Sector. In the early part of 1917 they had done several tours of duty being in and out of the line up to 15 March interspersed with time in camps at Carnoy and Guillemont. From then on they pursued the retreating Germans who were heading for their defensive positions at the Hindenburg Line. This took place in poor weather with zero temperatures over what has been described by the historian Mark Adkin as a ‘barren wasteland’ as the Germans perpetrated a ‘scorched earth’ policy supported by a strong rearguard action. Such was Haydn’s first and last experience of fighting on the Western Front. His final resting place is in the Guards’ Cemetery (I.D.17) at Combles, 16.5 km east of Albert.
His widow was desolate and for many years, certainly into the 1940s, remembered him in poignant ‘In Memoriam’ in the Portsmouth Evening News. This entry on 19 March 1920 illustrates how raw her grief still was:
In loving memory of my darling husband, Lt. Haydn Eric William Rayner, who was killed in action, March 17 1917, Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. My hero, in death we are not divided, He has won immortal glory, he has won the King’s greatest Crown triumphant in the land of all glories, he stands at the King’s right hand waiting for me; and I until then will carry His glory through. – His sorrowing wife.
Phyllis Rayner was 27 years old at this point and after a marriage of seven months duration remained a widow for 51 years until her death on 13 October 1968. Haydn’s brother died in the same year, he appears not to have married. Their mother died in Battersea in 1949.
Haydn’s connection to Weybridge is not apparent in any of his biographical or military details. However, the sole Executor of his father’s will was Henry Fossick Wilson of Springfield Meadow, Weybridge. His wife, Jessie Dagmar Osborn, was Haydn’s aunt as she and his mother Fanny Gertrude Osborn were sisters. Jessie and Henry Wilson’s son and Haydn’s first cousin, Harold John Fossick Wilson, who died in February 1919, is also commemorated on the Weybridge Memorial.
Canterbury Journal, Kentish Times & Farmers’ Gazette, Sat. 24 June 1882
England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, www.ancestry.co.uk
Lewis-Stemple, John Six Weeks The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War, London, 2010
Liverpool, England, Church of England Marriages & Banns,1754-1932, www.ancestry.co.uk
London, England, Church of England Births & Baptisms, 1813-1917. www.ancestry.co.uk
London, England, Church of England Marriages & Banns, 1754-1932, www.ancestry.co.uk
Maude/Durham Lines, www.ancestry.co.uk
6th (Service) Battalion, Ox & Bucks Light Infantry, www.lightbobs.com
6th (Service) Battalion, Ox & Bucks Light Infantry in the Great War, https://wartimememoriesproject.com
Overseas Passenger Lists, www.thegenealogist.co.uk
Walker Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
Sad Drowning Fatality, Whitstable & Herne Bay Herald, Sat. 4 April 1891