1914-15 STAR ‘R-10184 PTE. J. C. DAY, K. R. RIF: C.’; BRITISH WAR AND VICTORY MEDALS ‘R-10184 PTE. J. C. DAY. K. R. RIF. C.’,
1914-15 STAR ‘R-10195 PTE. J. L. DAY, K. R. RIF: C.’; BRITISH WAR AND VICTORY MEDALS ‘R-10195 PTE. J. L. DAY, K. R. RIF. C.’
John Cochrane Day was one of the first Fijians to serve during the Great War, designated Regimental No. 31, 1st Fijian Contingent, and assigned to 'B' Company, Fiji Platoon, King's Royal Rifle Corps.
Following the declaration of war in August 1914, the colony of Fiji answered the call. Many of the young men living in the colony were from Australia, New Zealand and Britain, and over 400 returned to their homelands and enlisted, some leaving on the first available boat. The population of Fiji wished not only to assist the war effort, as the Secretary of State for the Colonies advised, but also to 'raise and equip a force of picked men for active service at the front.'
Thus, permission was eventually given for the raising of a contingent, and applications were called for from men between the ages of 18 and 38 and of pure European descent. A force of 57 was formed, including the Day brothers, which left for Britain on 1 January 1915. 43 of these men would serve with the Fiji Platoon, King's Royal Rifle Corps.
Following training, the first contingent left England on 1 April 1915 and went into the trenches near Ypres on 6 April. In their sector, German artillery superiority meant that the Fijians very much had to endure rather than offer any significant resistance. In the early morning of 8 May, aided by a spotter aeroplane, the Germans unleashed a torrent of artillery upon the Allied trenches. According to Rifleman Ross, 1st Fijian Contingent, many troops left their trenches with the utmost haste. Not so the remains of the gallant Fijian Contingent:
'Standing out alone, in relief, on the top of a small hill, a dozen survivors of the Fijians gave the oncoming Germans a taste of lead; and, he was sure, said Mr Ross, that the behaviour of that dozen saved many lives. The Fijians, on their little hilltop, were in a fine shooting position, and their presence and splendid shooting delayed the whole German advance in that section. When finally they were so pressed that they had to move, they did not run, but retired step by step, blazing as they went, as gallant and touching a picture as ever the eyes of man wished to look upon.'
The attack was a disaster for the men from Fiji. In that month alone, 9 were killed and 31 were wounded. Originally composing a whole platoon, the survivors and walking wounded could not form a section. The impact upon the people of Fiji was devastating, and yet the islanders rallied and raised a second contingent that was sent to the battlefields of Europe in July 1915.
John saw out the day but succumbed to his wounds four days later; he is buried at the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France, over 10,000 miles from home. In total 179 Fijians were killed during the Great War.
James Lionel Day followed in identical footsteps as his brother and was designated Regimental No. 37, 1st Fijian Contingent. He served in France with the Fiji Platoon of the 4th Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps, from 2 April 1915. The brothers likely travelled across the English Channel together and fought together in the trenches around Ypres.
Following the losses on 8 May, 'B' Company was all but destroyed. James appears to be one of the three men who escaped, but he was wounded on 4 November 1918 in the upper right arm while serving with 151 Trench Mortar Battery.
Condition GVF, a fine and rare WW1 group.