Lakenham VC hero remembered as part of The Midsummer Centenary Fair
14:24 23 June 2014
Lakenham – this is your life. And it is time to remember a man who became a national hero in the First World War.
On Saturday June 28 a highlight of a Midsummer Fair will be an exhibition called Lakenham Life and its People which will became a permanent attraction in the Community Centre at Harwood Road.
It will include a collection of photographs, press cuttings and information collected over the years telling the story of the parish and how it has changed and developed over the years.
The exhibition will also feature information of the people from Lakenham who died in the two world wars and the organisers are appealing for anyone who can help with details of relations or friends who lost their lives to step forward.
“We would like to hear from anyone who can help with facts and reminiscences of those who sadly perished as a result of these wars,” said one of the organisers Richard Webb.
One Lakenham lad who deserves to be remembered more, in fact he is almost a forgotten hero, was a fearless fighter who saved many lives on the blood-soaked battlefields – Sidney James Day, VC.
Sidney, a former pupil at St Mark’s School, was the second Norwich man – Harry Daniels being the first – to receive the nation’s supreme award for gallantry in the First World War. He was a man who lifted our spirits and was cheered through the streets back in 1917.
The youngest of a family of nine brothers and sisters, he was born in the 1890s at St Anne’s Lane, off King Street. His father had worked at Morgan’s Brewery before running a lodging house on Ber Street which became the famous Jolly Butchers.
Sidney also attended Sunday School in Lakenham and was a sergeant in the Church Lads’ Brigade.
After leaving St Mark’s he was apprenticed to Mr Miller, a butcher on St Catherine’s Plain. He later went to work in Saxmundham and when war was declared he joined the Suffolks. He was to become a brave and courageous soldier.
In the summer of 1915, by then a lance corporal, he went to France with his battalion – just in time to take part in the battle of Loos. On the battlefield he was a giant of a man with little thought for his own safety.
During one battle he found he was the only man in his platoon who was not injured. He picked up his wounded officer, Lt Stevens, and was carrying him away from the battlefield when the officer was shot and killed by a sniper.
Then, some months later, during the battle of Mons, Sidney was shot twice, but managed to crawl three miles to a dressing station and was returned to Norwich and Wymondham for treatment.
By early 1917 this extraordinary soldier was back in France and it was during bitter fighting around Ypres and Passchendaele that his actions earned him the Victoria Cross.
He was in command of a bombing section detailed to clear a maze of enemy-held trenches. He did, killing two machine gunners and taking four prisoners.
He then went on alone and seized a trench bomb, throwing it away from other soldiers, where it exploded. His actions saved many lives.
Sidney then cleared the trench and remained in an advanced position for 66 hours during which time he came under intense hostile shell and rifle grenade fire. His actions were described as “an inspiration to all”.
When he finally made it back to Norwich he was a hero. Everybody wanted to shake his hand. Crowds gathered to cheer him. He was a bright light during very dark days.
Sidney returned to his old school in Lakenham and a party was thrown in his honour at the Mission Hall in Trafalgar Street.
He went back to France again where, this time, he was captured and held as a prisoner until the end of the war.
Back in civilian life he worked for the Electric Light Company in Norwich before moving to Portsmouth where he worked in the dockyard and then ran a shop. He died in 1959 aged 68.
So let us remember Sidney Day – a mountain of a man.
• The Midsummer Fair at Old Lakenham Community Centre and vicarage garden, Harwood Road, is on from noon to 5pm on Saturday June 28.
• Remember to take along any memorabilia you have about the parish, or information about those who died in the two world wars so it can be part of the permanent exhibition.