Ernest Moss Rayner (Service No. 2363)
(1895 - 1977)

Ernest Moss Rayner was born in November 1895 in Williamstown to Henry Rayner and Ellen Rayner nee Cotterell. Henry Rayner was one of the early residents of the Altona district moving into the area around 1890 and living in Mount Street. Ernest was the youngest of ten children and it appears the only one that followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Navy. Henry Rayner had joined the Royal Navy in England at the age of 16 serving 12 years and then joining the Merchant Navy which brought him to Australia around 1875. In Australia Henry joined the colonial Victorian Navy for a period of two years before becoming a lighthouse keeper along the Victorian coast.

The sea must have been in young Ernest Moss Rayner’s blood for he enlisted at the age of 17 into the Navy on the 12 November 1912 before WWI had broken out. At the outbreak of WWI Ordinary Seaman Rayner was serving aboard the HMAS Sydney which was sailing north to join HMAS Australia both intended to protect the Australian naval and military forces around the Pacific area of Rabaul and Anguar Island. HMAS Sydney was a ‘light cruiser’ built in Glasgow, Scotland for Australia and commissioned in June 1913.

Following the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914 HMAS Sydney operated in New Guinea and Pacific waters and in the brief campaign against the German Pacific possessions during which she carried out a series of punitive patrols. Highlights during this period included the capture of Rabaul (9 to 11 September 1914) and the destruction of the Anguar Island Wireless Station on 26 September 1914.

At about 6:20am on 9 November 1914 wireless telegraphy (W/T) operators in several transports as well as in the escorting warships received signals in an unknown code followed by a query from the Cocos Island W/T station ‘What is that code’? It was in fact the German cruiser Emden under the command of Captain Karl von Müller ordering her collier Buresk to join her at Point Refuge to transfer coal. Shortly afterwards the Cocos Island telegraphists signalled ‘Strange warship approaching’ followed later by the same message prefixed by ‘SOS.’  – the international distress call.

HMAS Sydney

By this time the Emden had anchored in Port Refuge and immediately dispatched a landing party under the command of Lieutenant Commander Von Mücke with orders to destroy the cable and wireless stations. Having received the SOS signal HMAS Sydney headed towards Cocos Island and there engaged the German cruiser ‘Emden’ managing to destroy its three funnels foremast wireless and steering gear. The Sydney also destroyed the Emden’s support ship ‘Buresk’ within the same battle. The battle was crucial for Australia in that with the Emden destroyed and the only other German warship Konigsberg also destroyed, less than a year later, there was now no real threat to the Australian shore which then freed Australian warships to take part in action closer to Europe.

Fresh from her victory HMAS Sydney rejoined the troop convoy in Colombo then spent eighteen uneventfully months patrolling along the west coast of the Americas before sailing to England where she took her place patrolling the North Sea again engaging the enemy on occasions.

In mid-1918 Able Seaman Rayner transferred ships spending time on HMAS Gayundah which had been recommissioned during the early part of WWI and spent most of the war period patrolling the coast along the eastern seaboard of Australia. Ernest also spent time on HMAS Encounter which had also been used to patrol the north east seaboard of Australia. When Able Seaman Rayner joined HMAS Encounter the Naval Board had just despatched the cruiser to Fiji and Samoa on what became Australia’s first overseas humanitarian assistance operation. HMAS Encounter embarked medical stores and a joint Army and Navy relief expedition and provided valuable aid following a severe outbreak of influenza among the indigenous populations.

Ernest’s period of seven years of naval service ended in December 1919 a year after peace was declared. He returned initially to Altona before marrying Janet (Daisy) Groves in 1922. The young couple quickly moved to Wright Street Essendon where their four children were born and Ernest commenced work as an electrical linesman. Ernest Moss Rayner died in 1977 aged 82 and is buried in the Fawkner Memorial Park.


  2. Werribee Shire Banner, 29 April 1915, p.2.

Research by: Graeme Reilly (ALHS)