Bertram is one of many whose life during this time (and in general) remains fairly mysterious, even after research. We can learn a little about Bertram from archived documents. He lived in Brighton throughout his life, he was Jewish, and like thousands of others, he lost his life on the Western Front in the First World War.
The first document which tells us about Bertram’s life is the 1911 census. In 1911, Bertram was 12. His father, Joel David Rayner was listed as a ‘Clerk to Money Lender.’ This document also shows Bertram’s father was born in ‘Russian Poland.’ Bertram’s mother Rachel was from Derbyshire. The family seemingly moved around before settling.
Bertram and his sister Lily were both born in ‘Warwickshire, Birmingham.’ Their younger sister Sylvia was born in London. The youngest Rayner child, Estella, was born in Brighton, where it seems the family remained for the rest of Bertram’s life. In Brighton, the Rayner family had a servant (probably a maid of all work) named Florence, showing some degree of affluence.
As a result of the bombing in the Second World War, 60% of service records were destroyed or irretrievably damaged, most notably in the 1940 fire in Arnside Street, London. The service record for Bertram Rayner has survived, but still, we know little about his life. Without this document, we would know even less about Bertram.
Above is the first page of Bertram’s service record. Bertram enlisted in Brighton on the 4th July 1916. It informs us he lived at 12 North Place, Brighton. He enlisted when he was aged 17 and 11 months. The record also notes his birth date was 29th July 1898, likely noted so it was clear when Bertram turned 18 and therefore able to begin his service. His profession was listed as a shop assistant.
Faint writing on the top right side of this document lists Bertram enlisted to join the 6th Labour Corps. The Labour Corps played a vital role in the war effort. These individuals undertook manual work, building essential structures like railroads. They also cared for soldiers, conducting essential tasks from cooking and cleaning.
Bertram seemingly changed regiments. The above image shows a section of his service record. It states Rayner enlisted on 22nd February, 1917, joining the 29th Middlesex Regiment with the service number 82338. The writing next to ‘transferred to’ is unclear, but it seems Bertram changed regiments further and his service number changed to 163510.
Bertram was killed in action on 6th October 1918 in France. As Bertram changed regiments multiple times, it is unclear where he was when he was killed. However, the Battle of Cambrai was occurring from 27th September to 11th October 1918 so it is likely Bertram was killed in this conflict. He is buried in Bellicourt British Cemetery.
The following pages are from after Bertram’s death, arranging for his possessions to be returned to his family. Bertram’s service number became an issue of contestation. Bertram’s father wrote to the army’s administration to rectify his son’s service number.
The writing is unclear, but this document below does state ‘the number of my son Gunner Bertram Rayner was 163510 not 212062 as stated’ and continues to request the administration ‘please verify.’ This letter also lists the address 12 North Place, Brighton, showing the family still reside in the same home.
This letter received a response, clarifying Bertram’s number changed to 212062 when he became a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery.
The image below is from a page in the service record listing Bertram’s family and confirming their relation. This lists Bertram’s mother, Ray (listed as Rachel on the 1911 census). This section of the service record is significant as it shows the Rayner family were Jewish.
The witness chosen to confirm the individuals were related to Bertram was B.B. Lieberman, whose qualification was ‘Minister of Religion.’ The address provided was 66 Middle Street, Brighton. This is the address of Middle Street Synagogue, suggesting the family attended this synagogue. B.B. Lieverman has also been researched as part of the Shalom Sussex project, and more can be read about his career as a Royal Army Chaplain on this webiste. Perhaps Bertram and Lieberman knew each other from home, and encountered each other during their service.
Betram’s father, Joel David Rayner, went by the name of David. This is shown as pages of the service record have been signed by his father. One example of this is seen below, as D.Rayner has signed to confirm he has recieved the medals for ‘Gunner B. Rayner.’ This shows Bertram moved from the Labour Corps to become a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. Here, his service number is shown as 212062.
Above is a page from Bertam’s service record. The writing is faint and is likely listing Bertram’s posessions which were to be passed on to his family.
The document reads: Rayner 212062
Letter, photos, pipe,
pocket wallet & religious
books, metal cig case,
gold ring, pair of spectacles
nat reg card, coin.
Further evidence that Bertram was Jewish is shown on the document below which outlines what needs to be put on headstones for soldiers. Bertram is listed as ‘Jew,’ meaning his headstone would have a Star of David rather than a cross.
Families or relatives could submit an inscription for a soldier’s headstone. Bertram does not have an inscription, which could mean his family did not receive the paperwork, or they could not pay the price for an inscription. It is clear from Bertram’s service record that his family were in contact with the administration regarding his son’s death. Their home address appears in the paperwork many times. This suggests an inscription was not provided due to the cost.
While we still know little about Bertram’s life, his service record reveals small details about his life. These documents provide a glimpse into the past, as his parents communicated with the army administration to ensure their son was commemorated with the correct service number. His parents ensured his personal possessions could be returned to his family, where they were undoubtedly treasured.
The degree to which the Rayner family knew B.B. Lieberman is unclear, but this document provides a hint about the religious life of the Rayner family.