Norwich's forgotten war hero Sidney Day to have permanent memorial
PUBLISHED: 08:04 22 July 2016 | UPDATED: 08:33 22 July 2016
A forgotten hero of the First World War is finally to be honoured with a permanent memorial in the city he called home - 100 years after his extraordinary acts of bravery.
A memorial remembering Sidney Day, who was awarded the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, for saving the lives of countless others, will be placed at the landmark war memorial facing City Hall.
After years of campaigning by the Evening News, the government has decided that a ceremony will take place on August 26, 2017 to unveil the stone.
It was on that very day in 1917 that his actions resulted in him getting the VC and when he heard about it he wrote to his parents in Norwich, saying: “You could have knocked me down with a feather.”
Corporal Sidney Day VC proved himself to be one of the most fearless fighters in the country – respected and revered by his comrades and by the enemy when they finally captured him.
In the heat of battle he was a courageous warrior who risked his own life to save others on several occasions. Being shot four times, he was sent home to be treated for his wounds before returning to the battlefields and, this time, was awarded the VC for his exploits. Large crowds turned out to cheer and salute their hero when he returned to Norwich.
He went back to the front and this time he was captured and held in a PoW camp until the armistice.
But despite his acts of bravery, apart from a plaque at the former St Mark’s School, Lakenham, and at St Mark’s Church, there is little else to remind us of him.
Former Lord Mayor of Norwich, Roy Blower, who is also a member of the War Memorial sub-committee, said of the news: “I am delighted that Sidney Day is finally being honoured in Norwich. It is so important that we never forget him.
“Sidney could have been awarded the VC on three separate occasions. At long last he will be honoured and I hope the plaque will inspire more people to discover more about him. We can all be so proud of what he achieved and we will never know how many lives he saved on those battlefields.”
Sidney, the youngest of a family of nine brothers and sisters, was born in 1891 at Morgan’s Old Brewery in King Street, where his father was head cellar man for many years.
Eventually his parents moved up to Ber Street where they ran Day’s Lodging House which eventually became the famous Jolly Butchers public house run by the most famous landlady in the city, Black Anna.
Young Sidney went to St Mark’s School and became a sergeant with the St Mark’s Church Lad’s Brigade. On leaving school he became an apprentice at Miller’s the butcher, on St Catherine’s Plain before he left Norwich to get a job at Saxmundham and when war was declared he joined the Suffolk Regiment.
Report from the time
It was following events on August 26, 1917 that Sidney Day, the butcher’s boy from Norwich, was awarded the Victoria Cross and the report in the London Gazette on why was as follows:
“For most conspicuous bravery. Corporal 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 the 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.
“Corporal 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 66 hours at his post, which came under intense hostile shell and rifle grenade fire.
“Through the whole operations his conduct was an inspiration to all.”
That was Sidney Day.
Sidney worked in the city for the Electric Light Company after the war before moving to Portsmouth in the 1930s where he worked in the dockyard and then ran a shop before his death in 1959 at the age of 68.
The remarkable story of Sidney Day
He was a one-man army on the bloody battlefields of the First World War, but when he came home to Norwich he was quiet, modest and almost embarrassed by the fact he had become a hero.
The flags were flying, the crowds were cheering and they all wanted to slap him on the back and shake his hand.
His name was Sidney Day VC – and now, at long last, he is to be honoured in his city.
A century ago we were fighting for our lives. Thousands of men, some still boys, went to war. So many didn’t return and those who did were never the same again. They had been to hell and back.
Meanwhile, at home, times were tough. We needed heroes. People who could lift our spirits.
The first man to receive the Victoria Cross, the nation’s supreme award for gallantry, from these parts was hard man Company-Sergeant Major Harry “Spitfire” Daniels.
Born at Wymondham he grew up in a Norwich orphanage and became a professional soldier. Another modest and almost shy man wanting to talk about others rather than himself, he was awarded his VC for bravery in March of 1915 and thousands of people turned out to welcome him back to Norwich a few months later.
Last year a specially engraved stone to honour Harry was unveiled by the war memorial at Wymondham and now, in August of next year, a stone will be placed by the Norwich war memorial to remember and pay tribute to another VC hero – Sidney Day.
This is all part of a government move to pay tribute to our First World War heroes and it is one which is welcomed.
While Harry was a professional soldier, young Sidney was a quiet butcher’s boy who grew up at Lakenham but moved to Saxmundham to further his career and when war broke out joined the Suffolk Regiment.
His bosses liked what they saw and promoted him to lance corporal before he travelled to France and straight into the thick of the action at the Battle of Loos.
On the front line this was his baptism of fire.
Under intense gunfire he realised he was the only member of his platoon not wounded.
He saw his officer, Lieutenant Stevens, badly hurt.
Deciding he must be saved he picked him up and was running, carrying him to a place of safety, when a bullet from a sniper’s rifle killed the officer.
The officer’s family later presented Sidney with an inscribed cigarette case for doing all he could to save his life.
It took Sidney several days to reach his battalion as they moved into Belgium and to Ypres in the winter of 1915. By then Sidney had a reputation as a tough soldier who always did what he could to help others.
His war almost ended at terrible Mons the following year when he was shot four times.
One bullet struck him over the heart but his cards etc in his breast pocket saved him. Others hit him in the groin, thigh and side.
Sidney was almost dead. But this was Sidney Day of Norwich. A survivor.
Bleeding profusely, he lay huddled in a hole for a day and night before dragging himself, blood-soaked and filthy three long and agonising miles in the dark to a dressing station.
Many couldn’t believe he was still alive.
He was treated for his injuries and later transferred to the Norfolk War Hospital set up at Thorpe. He was finally home, surrounded by family and friends.