Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1918, war poet Flight Commander Jeffrey Day D.S.C., Royal Naval Air Service, was missing presumed dead after his plane was shot down by enemy fighters twenty-five miles west of Dunkirk.
The son of solicitor, he was educated at Sandroyd School and Repton School before receiving a commission in the Royal Naval Air Service in August of 1915 at the age of eighteen. Before being promoted to Flight Lieutenant at the end of 1916 he had earned a reputation as a skilled and daring flyer.
Flight Commander Day began writing humorous poetry for his fellow officers, and was then inspired by Rupert Brooke to allow his writing to take a serious turn. One of his poems was written for his brother, Second Lieutenant Ivor Day, serving with the Royal Field Artillery, who died in October of 1915 two weeks after being shot by a sniper at Vermelles in France.
In August of 1917 Flight Lieutenant Day was posted to the experimental air station at Royal Naval Air Service Kingsnorth on the Isle of Grain, and just before Christmas of that year he joined No. 13 Squadron, based at Dunkirk. Over the following six weeks he brought down five enemy aircraft, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross “for great skill and bravery as a fighting pilot”.
On the day of his death he deliberately out-distanced his flight as he wanted to take on the enemy and enable the less experienced flyers following him to then attack. He fought six German aircraft single-handedly before being hit. With his aircraft on fire he nose-dived, then was seen to flatten out and make a perfect landing on the water. His commanding officer reported that “He climbed out of his machine and waved his fellow-pilots back to their base; being in aeroplanes [not sea-planes] they could not assist him.” Within an hour-and-a-half an air-search was launched, but no trace of him nor his aircraft could be found. He is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent.
Jeffrey, from St. Ives in Huntingdonshire, was 21 years old.
Excerpt from The Call of the Air:
Have you left the ground in murkiness, all clammy, grey, and soaking,
and struggled through the dripping, dirty white.
Have you seen the blank sides closing in and felt that you were choking,
and then leapt into a land of blazing light
where the burnished sun is shining on the clouds’ bright, silver lining,
a land where none but fairy feet have trod,
where the splendour nearly blinds you and the wonder of it binds you,
and you know you are in heaven, close to God?