Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (28 February & 1 March 2018)

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Date of Auction: 28th February & 1st March 2018

Sold for £160,000

Estimate: £120,000 - £140,000

Sold by Order of the Family
The outstanding Great War 1917 V.C. group of six awarded to Corporal S. J. Day, 11th (Service) Battalion, Suffolk Regiment (Cambridgeshire), whose heroics performed during the capture of the labyrinthine trench system at Hargicourt, 26 August 1917, mirrored the calibre of his earlier war service - which had been desperately unlucky not have been rewarded with at least one other gallantry decoration.

Day spearheaded the Battalion’s attack at Hargicourt, leading his bombing section he came to the fore when the whole attack faltered under the deadly fire of a well placed machine-gun crew. Killing two of the gunners and taking the remainder of the crew prisoner, Day pressed on into the trench system protected by a German strong point called Malakhoff Farm. The British attack became fragmented and in danger of grinding to halt, and it was Day who went on alone to ‘bomb his way out’. Having successfully re-established a link with the other parties of the attack, Day returned to where he had left his section. Upon arrival he discovered two officers (one badly wounded) and three other ranks in his newly captured part of the trench. Almost immediately, in this ‘tit-for-tat’ struggle, Day was faced with a German stick grenade landing at his feet. Fortunately for all concerned survival instinct kicked in, and Day seized the grenade before hurling it over the side of the trench. It exploded almost as soon as it left his hands. His actions saved the lives of those in the trench, as well as his own. Despite this near death experience, Day pressed on once again and cleared the remainder of the trench. He consolidated his position, heavily entrenched himself, and remained at his post under intense shelling until his relief 66 hours later.

Remarkably, despite constantly putting himself in harm’s way, Day had not been wounded during the attack at Hargicourt. This is made all the more remarkable considering that during the rest of his war service he received 5 bullet wounds, was forced to crawl back to British lines on two separate occasions, and was ultimately taken prisoner of war.

Day initially served with the 9th (Service) Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, and received the first of his wounds whilst serving with them during the opening phases of the battle of Loos, 25/26 September 1915. This was Day and the Battalion’s first action of the Great War - and he had gallantly tried to rescue his wounded commanding officer from No-Man’s Land. As Day was in the process of lifting Lieutenant T. T. Stevens onto his shoulder, a sniper’s bullet found the officer - he died in Day’s arms. Wounded himself, Day took three days to return to his Battalion, by which time he had been given up for dead. Another man of the 9th Battalion was to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry near Loos on the 26th September - Sergeant Arthur Saunders. The latter was awarded the Regiment’s first Victoria Cross. Lieutenant Stevens’ family later presented Day with an inscribed cigarette case for his efforts in trying to save their son’s life.

Having recuperated from his wound, Day was back in action on the Somme in 1916. He suffered 4 bullet wounds during the attack on the Quadrilateral, 13 September 1916. One bullet pierced his breast pocket just above his heart, only to be deflected into his side by a packet of postcards held in his pocket. Exhausted and incapacitated by his wounds, Day lay in a shell-hole from 7 a.m. until darkness fell. He then crawled back to British lines.

Day had transferred to the 11th Battalion by the time of his Victoria Cross winning exploits. It was serving with them during the German Spring Offensive that he was wounded for a final time, and was taken prisoner of war at the battle of Lys, 10 April 1918.

Victoria Cross, reverse of the suspension bar inscribed ‘No.15092 Cpl. S. J. Day. 11th Bn. Suff Regt’, reverse centre of the cross dated ‘26. Aug. 1917.’; 1914-15 Star (15092 L. Cpl. S. J. Day. Suff: R.); British War and Victory Medals (15092 Cpl. S. J. Day. Suff. R.); Coronation 1937; Coronation 1953, last two in card boxes of issue, remainder mounted as worn, nearly extremely fine (6)

Footnote

V.C. London Gazette 17 October 1917:

‘For most conspicuous bravery. Cpl. Day was in command of a bombing section detailed to clear a maze of trenches still held by the enemy; this he did, killing two machine gunners and taking four prisoners. On reaching a point where the trench had been levelled, he went alone and bombed his way through to the left, in order to gain touch with the neighbouring troops.

Immediately on his return to his section a stick bomb fell into a trench occupied by two officers (one badly wounded) and three other ranks.
Cpl. Day seized the bomb and threw it over the trench, where it immediately exploded. This prompt action undoubtedly saved the lives of those in the trench.


He afterwards completed the clearing of the trench, and, establishing himself in an advanced position, remained for sixty-six hours at his post, which came under intense hostile shell and rifle grenade fire.

Throughout the whole operations his conduct was an inspiration to all.’

Sidney James Day was born in St. Ann’s Lane, Norwich, in July 1891. He was the youngest of nine children to William and Elizabeth Day. His father was a head cellarman at Morgan’s Brewery, and later ran the Jolly Butcher’s public house in Norwich.

Sidney Day was educated at St. Mark’s School, Lakenham, and was a Sergeant in the Church Lads’ Brigade whilst at school. He was employed as an apprentice butcher in Norwich, before moving to Saxmundham in Suffolk. With the outbreak of the Great War, Day enlisted in the 9th (Service) Battalion, Suffolk Regiment in September 1914. He served during the Great War with the Battalion in the French theatre of war from 31 August 1915.

1915: Battle of the Loos - almost a V.C.?

The 9th Battalion saw their first action at Loos in September 1915. They served as part of the 71st Brigade, 24th Division, and were engaged during the first day of the battle when they were among the reserves hurried forward to support the British offensive after the initial assaults:

‘The 71st Brigade reached Bethune about one o’clock in the morning of the 25th. The 9th Battalion, thoroughly tired after a succession of night marches and drenchings which they had stood well, went into barracks buoyed up with the promise of forty-eight hours’ rest if circumstances permitted. At 4 a.m., Lieut.-Colonel Brettell was summoned to the Brigadier and ordered to assemble his battalion at a certain point in Bethune in readiness to march off at 7 a.m. The hour of starting was subsequently changed, and was 11.30 a.m. before they set out along the Rue d’Aire into “the far-flung battle line.” On the way up to Vermelles they passed a continuous stream of German prisoners and British wounded. After a short halt, the battalion formed up near Fosse 9, where they received a corps order to the effect that the 24th Division (less the 73rd Brigade) was to act as support to the 9th Division, the 21st Division advancing on its right, its own objective being Vendin-le-Vieil. The 11th Essex and 9th Suffolk Regiments were ordered to form the first line, and the 9th Norfolks and 8th Bedford Regiments the second line.

It was not, however, until 8 p.m. on that memorable September 25 that the 9th Battalion moved off and began to wend its way, in a double line of platoons, across the battlefield of Loos. A steady advance - not towards the 9th Division as originally intended, but in the direction of Vendin-le-Vieil - was maintained, the battalion passing in turn over its own support line, its own front line, the German front line, and the German support line. About midnight the advance was held up, the battalion digging themselves in between that hour and dawn, with the German support line still behind them. At 5 a.m. they were ordered back to that line.

During the forenoon of the 26th an order was received for the 21st and 24th Divisions to attack again at 11 a.m., the latter division being on the left. The 72nd Brigade was to carry out the attack on the front allotted to the division, with the 11th Essex Regiment (left) and the 9th Suffolk Regiment (right) in support of the brigade six hundred yards in rear. Unfortunately, however, this order was not received until 11.25 a.m., whereupon Lieut.-Colonel Brettell, passing a message down the line, ordered the battalion to advance immediately. Without hesitation each section mounted the parapet and began pushing forward under heavy artillery fire towards the objective of the previous evening.

The advance continued until the leading line had reached a point about two hundred yards or so beyond the Hulluch-Lens road where it was definitively checked. At 5 p.m. the right flank began to give way. For three hours the centre held on to the road, and during that time the flanks, coming under a heavy machine-gun fire from the direction of Hulluch, was forced back. Here most of the 9th Battalion’s casualties occurred.

At seven o’clock that evening a party consisting of three officers and about a hundred men, under Captain Packard, was ordered to hold the old German second line against counter-attack, remaining there until relieved. During the night no attacks were made, and at 2 a.m. - the party having been relieved by a company of the Coldstream Guards - Captain Packard withdrew his men towards Vermelles. Just before leaving, he got into touch with another party of the 9th Battalion, under Lieut. Church, both these detachments rejoining the battalion at Sailly-Labourse.’ (The History of the Suffolk Regiment 1914-1927, by Lieutenant-Colonel C. C. R. Murphy refers)

During the course of the action the 9th Battalion suffered 135 casualties, of which one officer - Lieutenant T. T. Stevens - was killed. Stevens was Day’s commanding officer, and he had been badly wounded during the attack. Day saw that his officer was in need of help, and lifted him onto his shoulder in an effort to carry him to a place of safety. As he was in the process of doing this a German sniper killed Stevens.

Day, wounded himself, took three days to return to his Battalion, by which time he had been given up for dead. Another man of the 9th Battalion was to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry near Loos on the 26th September - Sergeant Arthur Saunders. The latter was awarded the Regiment’s first Victoria Cross. Lieutenant Stevens’ family later presented Day with an inscribed cigarette case for his efforts in trying to save their son’s life.

1916: The Somme - the attack on The Quadrilateral and four bullet wounds

After a period of recuperation in the UK, Day rejoined the 9th Battalion in time for service on the Somme. His Battalion served as part of the 71st Brigade, 6th Division for the attacks on The Quadrilateral, which they undertook on 13 and 15 September 1916. Barely recovered from the wound of the previous year, Day suffered another four bullet wounds during the course of the first attack. One bullet pierced his breast pocket just above his heart, only to be deflected into his side by a packet of postcards and a small book held in his pocket. Exhausted and incapacitated by his wounds, Day lay in a shell-hole from 7 a.m. until dark. The Regimental History gives the following for the attack on 13 September 1916:

‘On September 13 the battalion took part in an attack by the 6th Division on the Quadrilateral, the 71st Brigade being on the left and the 16th on the right. The 9th Battalion attacked with three companies in the front line and one in support, zero being at 6.20 a.m. The battalion got through the German outpost line quite easily, but on gaining the open ground, which stretched for about four hundred yards to the enemy’s wire, came under a terrific machine-gun fire from the formidable strong point known as the Quadrilateral. Across this bare expanse the men struggled bravely forward, Lieut. Macdonald with others getting close enough to throw a bomb into the German stronghold before being wounded. No further progress could, however, be made. At 7.30 a.m. another attack, in which ‘A’ Company participated, was launched; and in the evening a third. Still no entrance could be effected. The battalion therefore, in touch with units on both flanks, dug itself in on a line about half a mile in front of the jumping-off trenches of the morning.

One incident in this fighting is worthy of mention. During the forenoon, Captain Ensor, knowing that Lieut. Macdonald had been hit, went out to try and find him. After running from shell-hole to shell-hole for about three hundred yards under fire and in full view of the Germans, and calling out Macdonald’s name, he found him lying seriously wounded. Then, having put iodine on his wounds and made him as comfortable as possible, he ran the gauntlet back to where his men were dug in. The next morning before it was light, Captain Ensor with his orderly went out again and tried to bring in his wounded subaltern, but after carrying him for about two hundred yards the orderly was shot dead. Captain Ensor, however, had succeeded in getting Lieut. Macdonald within the zone of his own stretcher-bearers, who brought him in. Lieut. Macdonald eventually recovered, though in hospital for five and half years.

The casualties were as follows - Killed: Captain S. H. Byrne; 2nd Lieut. G. D. Gardiner; and 15 other ranks. Wounded: Captains V. W. Barrett and N. R. Rawson (R.A.M.C.); 2nd Lieuts C. Wayman, A. G. Douglas, G. W. Collyer, D. K. Macdonald, H. E. Falkner, A. Fudge, F. Goatcher, and H. Almack; and 185 other ranks [including Day].

Unfortunately for Day he did not have a Captain Ensor to find him, and he was forced to crawl back to British lines under the cover of darkness:

‘Here he very narrowly escaped losing his life. He sustained no fewer than four wounds on different parts of his body. As luck would have it, one bullet struck him directly over the heart, and would certainly have put an end to his career but for the fortunate circumstances that he had in his breast pocket two or three pocket books, a packet of post cards, and about a dozen field cards. The bullet passed through the lot, but was deflected and, entering his side, came out at his back. Another bullet struck him near the groin, but became embedded in the leather case of a range finder [this is in fact the compass case included in the lot] and inflicted nothing worse than a bruise. A third passed through his thigh and came out of his groin; and a fourth went through his left side and came out of his back. Thus wounded and exhausted he lay in a shell-hole from seven o’clock in the morning till it became dark, when he crept three miles to a dressing station.’ (Newspaper cutting included in lot refers)

Day was once again evacuated to the UK, however, this time he managed to be posted to a hospital closer to home - the Norfolk War Hospital at Thorpe St. Andrew.

1917: Third time ‘lucky’

After several months of recuperation, and advancing to Corporal, Day returned to France in 1917. He transferred to the 11th (Service) Battalion, Suffolk Regiment (Cambridgeshire) and served with them as part of the 34th Division, IIIrd Corps. In July 1917 the Battalion proceeded to Péronne, with the division occupying a line about twelve miles east of that town, the centre being three miles west of the Hindenburg line at Bellenglise.

Day, and the 11th Battalion, ‘moved into the front and Brown Lines [on 24 August], with two companies in Priel Wood, taking part two days later in a most successful attack on Malakhoff Farm and trench system in front of Hargicourt, in which all the objectives were quickly gained. The Thirty-fourth Division, 1915-19 says: “This battalion had some hand-to-hand fighting at the junction of Sugar and Malakhoff trenches, and suffered from a machine-gun’s fire until its crew was killed. The centre company, ‘B’, lost ground getting through Malakhoff Farm, but this had been anticipated, and the troops on the right and left bombed inwards down the support trench, so that the Red Line was occupied up to time. The officer commanding ‘D’ Company [Captain A. B. Wright] materially facilitated the consolidation of this part of the objective by seizing the adjacent portion of Triangle Trench, in which he took thirty prisoners.’

The rather dry paragraph written above, written with Corps level in mind, hardly does justice to the heroics of Corporal Day during the attack. The Battalion had been tasked with the capture of a system of trenches on a ridge, protected by a German strong point called Malakhoff Farm, near the French village of Hargicourt. Day, given command of a bombing section, spearheaded the attack. Entering into a labyrinthine system, the whole attack was in danger of grinding to a halt when it faltered under the deadly fire of a machine-gun crew. Day came to the fore, killing two of the gunners and taking the remainder of the crew prisoner. Advancing again, the attack became fragmented and it was Day who went alone to bomb his way out, and thus re-establish contact with the remainder of the Battalion. Having successfully re-established a link with the other members of the attack, Day returned to where he had left his section. Upon arrival he discovered two officers (one badly wounded) and three other ranks in his newly captured part of the trench. Almost immediately, in this ‘tit-for-tat’ struggle, Day was faced with a German stick grenade landing at his feet. Fortunately for all concerned survival instinct kicked in, and Day seized the grenade before hurling it over the side of the trench. It exploded almost as soon as it left his hands. His actions saved the lives of those in the trench, as well as his own.

Despite this near death experience, Day pressed on once again and cleared the remainder of the trench. He consolidated his position, heavily entrenched himself, and remained at his post under intense shelling until his relief sixty-six hours later.

In recognition of his gallantry, Day was awarded the Victoria Cross - 1 of only 2 ever awarded to the Regiment. He wrote to his parents on 4 September, ‘in about six weeks’ time you will, I hope be informed of great news, which will make you the proudest parents in Norwich. I am recommended for the coveted honour, the V.C..... When we got back to our billets my platoon officer, who is a perfect gentleman... called me aside, and told me that he was very pleased with what I had done in the attack, and was recommending me for a reward.

At first, he said, I was in for a MM, but the Captain himself decided on a DCM, but finally the Colonel and Captain thought me worthy of the Victoria Cross, as he told me personally I thoroughly deserved it, and he hoped I would get it.

Well, when my officer told me that, you might have knocked me down with a feather, for little did I dream that I should ever be the one to gain that much coveted honour.’

1918: Spring Offensive - prisoner of war

The investiture ceremony for Day’s Victoria Cross was held at Buckingham Palace, 9 January 1918. As well as meeting the King, he also received a hero’s welcome when he returned to his home city. A civic reception was held for him at Norwich Guildhall, and a parade of the Church Lads’ Brigade in Lakenham was held in his honour.

Day returned to the 11th Battalion in time for the German Spring Offensive of 1918. He was wounded and taken prisoner of war during the offensive. The Battalion were particularly engaged 21-23 March, as part of the battle of St. Quentin, and 10-17 April as part of the battle of the Lys. The 11th Battalion suffered heavy casualties, in addition to having a large number of men taken prisoner during the German onslaught. Day was a reported as ‘Missing’, 10 April 1918, and later confirmed as a prisoner of war, 7 June 1918. He was initially hospitalised before being interned at Langensalza for the remainder of the conflict. Day returned to the UK after the Armistice, and transferred to the Army Reserve in April 1919. He was a member of the VC Guard for the internment of the Unknown Warrior, 11 November 1920.

1941: One final brush with the Germans

Having left the army, Day struggled to find employment and was forced to retrain as part of a Government scheme. He was eventually employed by the Norwich Electricity Department, before deciding to try pastures new and moving to Fratton in Hampshire. Day went into business with his wife, and opened the ‘Sidney Day VC Tea Rooms’ in The Arcade, off Edinburgh Road, Portsmouth. His survival instinct was to save him one last time, when his home and business were destroyed by a German air raid, 10 January 1941. During 1941 Portsmouth suffered three major ‘Blitz’ raids, on 10 January, 10 March and 27 April, with the first one leading to casualties of 170 people killed and over 400 injured.

Day subsequently found work as a messenger in the Naval Dockyards of Portsmouth, however, his health began to rapidly decline and he was forced to retire in 1948. Day was admitted to St Mary's Hospital with tuberculosis in 1955 and stayed for 7 months. His health continued to decline and he was admitted to Queen Alexandra's Hospital where he died soon after on 17 July 1959. He is buried in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth.

A commemorative stone was dedicated to Sidney Day in front of the Norwich War Memorial, 26 August 2017 - exactly 100 years after his gallantry in the trenches near Hargicourt.

Sold with the following related items and documents: Silver cigarette case (hallmarks for Birmingham 1915), lid engraved ‘To Lance Corpl. S. J. Day from the parents Lieut. T. T. Stevens Sept. 26th 1915.’; field compass in leather case, the case with shrapnel damage; named certificates for both Coronation Medals; Certificate of Transfer to Reserve; invitation to the Prince of Wales’ Dinner in the House of Lords for V.C. recipients, 9 November 1929, with Programme of Events, the latter signed by Sergeant D. Laidlaw, V.C. and Sergeant A. E. Egerton, V.C.; a copy of the List by Services and Regiments for the march to Buckingham Palace as part of the Garden Party for recipient’s of the Victoria Cross, 26 June 1920; Programme for the Victoria Cross Review of Holders of the Decoration by Her Majesty The Queen, Hyde Park, 26 June 1956, with a copy of Order of Form Up for Holders of the Decoration on Parade; Programme for the Corporation of London Reception at Guildhall to Mark the Centenary of the institution of the Victoria Cross, 27 June 1956, back cover with a number of signatures of V.C. recipients; enclosure from the Board of Trade under the War Damage Act for the settlement of £45.19s.-5d. to recipient in lieu of the destruction of his Tea Rooms and home; a quantity of photographs (some annotated) from various stages of recipient’s service career, and a portrait photograph of Lieutenant T. T. Stevens in uniform; various newspaper cuttings and other ephemera.