“It was an amazing night,” Chris says of the presentation at Cowes RSL. “They did a wonderful job and fortunately all of our family were able to be there.”
That included Chris and his wife Margaret, their sons Jason and Stephen and five grandchildren.
Chris’s father, Corp Alec Day, was killed in active service with Britain's Royal Dragoon Guards as they approached Bremen in Germany in April 1945.
After discovering a story about his father on the internet, Chris, Margaret and Jason attended the Normandy Landings reunion with Alec’s York-based Regiment in 2013.
“The Regiment was shocked to hear we had not ever received my father’s medals and encouraged me to apply for them from the British Defence Department,” Chris says.
He had no idea it would be such a long-drawn-out process.
It took months of sending forms and letters to convince the Defence Department that Chris was a direct descendent, and then once his identity was accepted, years of emails followed.
“The Regiment were really good. They were giving me advice on what to do,” Chris says. “When I hit a brick wall, they’d say, ‘Well, try this’. Finally, I found a division of the Defence Department that was based in Glasgow, and they put together all of my father's war records. This took them around 10 months.”
At this point, Chris discovered the war medals had been sent to the wrong address.
“Up until then the Defence Department had said, ‘Well, your family has had the medals and that's it.’ But the Regiment got involved and spoke to Prince Charles as the Regiment's Colonel-In-Chief and then things started to happen.”
He says it was a shame that a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normanby Landings, which included the opening of a new war memorial on the beach, was scrapped this year because of the pandemic.
Alec Day’s war records reveal he had been a career soldier from the age of 18, starting with national service in 1931 and then the Territorial Force.
“The whole idea of the Territorials was that they defended the homeland,” Chris says. “But in reality, as the war got worse, they were sent overseas. Dad was sent straight to the Tanks Corp, which was unusual. We think it might have been because he had worked for an engineering company in the London, Dorman Long, the same company that built the Sydney Harbour Bridge.”
Chris says his father meet his mother in London, when she was a personal secretary to Simon Marks at Marks & Spencers, and they married in 1937. His birth during wartime is something of a miracle.
“My Father came back home after the North African campaign, where he was in the tank squadron of the British 8th Army, which is only reason why I'm alive,” says Chris. That was supposed to be the end of his war service, but they lost so many troops and tanks at the Normandy Landings that he was called in again and put on Reserve.
“He was then posted to the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, which was the Tank Regiment that landed at Normandy, but he didn’t join the regiment until they were in France. They pushed through France into Holland and Germany. He was there when they crossed the Rhine – so he was there almost until the end – that was when he was killed.”
Alec was just 31 years old when he died, and he is buried at Rheinberg British War Cemetery.
Chris’s mother remarried four years later and Chris, his mother, stepfather and the three other children they’d had by then came to Australia as Ten Pound Poms in 1963.
Chris says it was wonderful to have all his family and friends from San Remo (where he and Margaret have a holiday property) at the presentation of the medals at the Cowes RSL in February.
“As it turns out, how lucky was that? No one has been going anywhere since,” he says.