Victoria Cross awarded to ‘luckiest’ survivor of First World war set for £140,000 sale

Corporal Sidney Day, Suffolk Regiment, wearing his Victoria Cross

THE Victoria Cross awarded to one of the luckiest survivors of the First World War is being sold by his family 101 years later for £140,000.

Corporal Sidney Day, who is buried in Milton Cemetery, cheated death on numerous occasions.

The reverse of Sidney Day's Victoria Cross engraved with his name and the date on which he won Britain's highest gallantry decoration

He was shot six times, almost blown up by a grenade and later escaped a bombing raid that destroyed his home in the Second World War.

At the Somme in 1916 Cpl Day, who ran Sidney Day VC Tea Rooms in Edinburgh Road, Portsmouth, suffered four bullet wounds from machine gun fire.

Incredibly, a packet of postcards in his breast pocket deflected one bullet aimed for his heart while a second embedded in a leather compass case in his trousers, leaving a bruise on his groin.

The damaged case is being sold alongside his Victoria Cross.

The leather compass case which stopped a bullet that might otherwise have killed Sidney Day

Having also been shot in the thigh and back, a wounded Cpl Day sheltered for 12 hours in a shell hole before he crawled the three miles back to a dressing station in the dark.

A year before at the Battle of Loos he was shot while he tried to rescue his badly-injured commanding officer in No Man’s Land.

Cpl Day lifted his comrade over his shoulders but as he carried him to safety a German sniper shot them both.

Lieutenant Thomas Stevens was killed while an injured Cpl Day spent three days making his way back to British lines by which time he had been given up for dead.

Sidney Day outside the 'Sidney Day VC Tea Rooms', Portsmouth in the years between the two world wars

Lt Stevens’ parents were so grateful for the soldier’s efforts to save their son they gave him an inscribed silver cigarette case. This also forms part of the archive being auctioned.

Inexplicably, Cpl Day was overlooked for a gallantry medal for the rescue attempt but he was awarded Britain’s highest decoration for bravery for more heroics in August 1917 at Hargicourt at the Somme.

He spearheaded his battalion’s attack on a complex enemy trench system.

When the men were held up by deadly German machine gun fire he single-handedly surged forward, killed two of the gunners and took the rest prisoner.

He then ‘bombed his way’ through the trenches to link up with other British forces.

At one point an enemy stick grenade landed at his feet.

He seized it and threw it out of the trench. It exploded almost as soon as it left his hands but he had saved the lives of those in the trench as well as his own.

He was presented with the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace in January 1918 and then given a hero’s welcome in his home city of Norwich.

But by March 1918 he was back in northern France and was wounded again and taken prisoner during a German offensive at Lys in April.

After the war he sought a peaceful life and opened a tea rooms with his wife in Portsmouth.

But during the dark days of World War Two the shop and his home was blown up by a devastating Luftwaffe attack on the city.

Although 600 civilians died in the air raid, Cpl Day again benefited from good fortune and he walked away without a scratch.

He finally died in 1959 aged 68, partly as a result of the wounds he suffered in the First World War.

His medals and wartime possessions have been held by his family ever since and have now been put up for sale for the first time.

Mark Quayle, a medals specialist at London auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb, said: ‘Sidney Day’s survival in the First World War was nothing short of miraculous.

‘He suffered five wounds, was saved from serious injury on two occasions when equipment and personal possessions deflected bullets and was twice forced to crawl back to British lines.

‘His later plan to live a quiet life by opening a tea rooms in Portsmouth went somewhat awry when his business and home were destroyed by the Luftwaffe in the Second World War.

‘Needless to say he survived the bombing.

‘However he was desperately unlucky not to have been rewarded with at least one other gallantry decoration during the First World War.

‘He performed the most astonishing feats of bravery over a two year period before he was eventually given a long-overdue Victoria Cross.

‘Other men of his calibre emerged from the conflict with a row of gallantry awards.’

Cpl Day was an apprentice butcher but enlisted with the 9th Battalion Suffolk Regiment on the outbreak of the First World War.

In 1920 he was a member of the Victoria Cross Guard for the internment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.

He is buried at Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth and there is a commemorative stone in his honour at the Norwich War Memorial.

Being sold at the London auction are his VC, the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals, Coronation 1937 and Coronation 1953 Medals.

There is also the cigarette case, a field compass in its damaged leather case, invitations for a Buckingham Palace garden party and a House of Lords dinner for VC recipients and a government document settlement of £45 19s in lieu of the destruction of his tea rooms and home.

The sale takes place on February 28.

More from News