Carl "Serpent" Rayner

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29 JULY 1895 - 6 AUGUST 1982

A Tribute to Carl 'Serpent' Rayner

Carl Rayner

With the passing of Carl Rayner ("Serpent") the Movement has lost one of its senior members. As a boy of 12 in 1908 he started Scouting. These were days when there was no organisation and boys began spontaneously to carry out the scheme outlined in "Scouting for Boys". From this early beginning he retained his interest to the end.

During his long years of service he held many ranks: Scout; Scoutmaster; District Commissioner; Deputy Camp Chief; Assistant Divisional Commissioner - Training, Peninsula, Lay Development, General Duties; General Secretary, SAHQ; Divisional Secretary, Cape Western Division. He was awarded the Medal of Merit in 1924, the Silver Wolf in 1932, and the Silver Springbok in 1979. In 1953 he received from Buckingham Palace the Coronation Medal.

But a record of his ranks, positions and awards gives no real idea of his contribution to Scouting in Cape Western Area and in South Africa as a whole. He gave himself, and the Movement is the richer for it.

Those of us who were privileged to know him for a long time will always think of him in terms of Training. He gained the Wood Badge at Gilwell Park England in 1924, and as Assistant Divisional Commissioner and D.C.C. he pioneered and established Training in the Cape Western Division. In this he was ably supported by his wife, Doris better known as 'Gilkela' who as Akela Leader was in charge of Cub Training. In those early days the connection between the Rayners and Training could hardly have been more intimate. Gilcape was first set up in the grounds of their home at Diep River. Courses were run regularly from 1927 to 1939, when the training programme was interrupted by the war. Many of those who have played a leading role in Scouting and particularly in Leadership Training passed through their hands and learnt not only the techniques but also the real spirit of Scouting.

Serpent was also involved in the early training of what was then the "Coloured Boy Scout Association", and when their own Training Ground was eventually established it was called "Gilray" out of compliment to him and his wife ('Gilkela' and Rayner – Gilray).

It was appropriate that Carl Rayner was involved in Training, because he was a dedicated educationalist. He started his teaching career at the Balfour Street School, Woodstock (now the Queen's Park High School). After a short time he transferred to the Mountain Road Boys' Primary School, where he was principal from 1931 until he retired in 1950. The Rayner Trophy was named in honour of and as a tribute to Carl Rayner, one of SA Scouting 1908 founder members and main SA Adult Training initiator.

He joined the forces in the early months of the 1st World War and served from 1914 to 1919. He was a pilot in what was then known as the Royal Flying Corps, and saw service in the Middle East and Egypt.

It is impossible to assess the influence of a man like Carl Rayner upon those who were privileged to know him. His memory will long be treasured for his devotion to Scouting, especially to its high ideals; his great gift of imparting knowledge; his clarity of mind, which enabled him to seize upon the essentials of a subject under discussion while others were bogged down in details; his never-failing sense of humour, sometimes devastating, but always ready to enjoy a joke against himself, and above all for his warm friendship and readiness to serve others at all times.

Comments on the life of Carl Rayner by his daughter

As a young boy living in the Tamboerskloof area, my father had the privilege of being able to spend hours exploring and studying the mountain slopes above his home. He became not only a skilful climber, but also a keen naturalist. His mother was a photographer with the old Cape Town firm of 'Akkersdyk Studios' and she inspired her family with the love of books and the pursuit of knowledge. My father's artistic talent was expressed in his drawings and paintings, particularly of indigenous flora. I am proud to have 2 of his paintings – 'Disas' and a 'Giant Protea' - done when he was only 14.

He attended St George's Grammar School and SACS. Books in my possession show his excellent academic record including prizes for Maths, History, English, Classics and Natural History. He matriculated when still only about 15 years old and eventually decided to train as a teacher.

During the First World War, he joined the Royal Flying Corps, was sent to Egypt and India and became one of those 'daring young men in their flying machines'. He had many interesting and amusing stories to tell of his exploits, including a 'pancake landing' in a goods yard in Cairo. I imagine he flew too low over a shunting engine and the updraft of hot air was not sufficient to support an aircraft, even one as light as a 'Sopwith Camel' or a 'Gypsy Moth'. It was in the Egyptian desert that he developed his great rapport with reptiles, and we have photos of him happily festooned with snakes, lizards, geckos, etc. This gave him the enduring Scout name of 'Serpent'.

After the war, he taught at Balfour Street school in Woodstock and met and married my mother. They were a devoted couple and eventually celebrated their golden wedding in style, many Scouters being present. Throughout her married life, my mother was involved in Cubbing, known to many as 'Gilkela'. My father became principal of Mountain Road Boys School also in Woodstock. He was a giver, never a taker; a handyman as well as an intellectual. At 'Mountain Road' he immediately set about building soup kitchens to help feed his needy pupils, as many were deprived and hungry, and this upset him greatly. At the old 'Gilcape' in Diep River, he built Scout halls and many other much needed amenities. What with Scouting and school activities, he was an extremely busy man and his study at home was crammed with books, papers and memorabilia of every kind - all treasured.

During the Second World War, the Broadcasting Corporation asked him to give a weekly talk to schools on 'Current Affairs'. This required a lot of preparation, but was well received and enjoyed, even by adults. In 1973, the Cape Western Scouts published his informative, illustrated book on Trees. He was then 78 years old and still a very busy man, but deeply affected by the death of my mother in 1980.

His considerable achievements and awards in Scouting have been well-documented. I can only add that his greatest joy in his declining years was to visit headquarters – to maybe do some secretarial work or simply to reminisce with old and new friends.