Major Dicky Day dies at 91 years old. Bore witness to one of the worst disasters of the 1942 Burma Campaign

Major Douglas "Dicky" Day
Major Douglas “Dicky” Day

Major “Dicky” Day bore witness to one of the worst disasters of the 1942 Burma Campaign. He saw the Sittang River Bridge be blown up and nearly two-thirds of an entire division stranded on the wrong side of the river.

February of 1942, the 17th Indian Infantry Division had been weakened by a battle in Bilin. They decided to pull back onto the Sittang River. The bridge spanned over 600 yards of rapidly running water. The bridge was one of the main entrances to Rangoon.

The Japanese were very lucky when they intercepted a crucial telephone call. That telephone call was meant to disclose the company’s plan to withdraw and regroup; however because of the interception, it turned into an ambush and forced hundreds of men to flee for their lives. The Japanese put up road blocks, attacked whomever came across them. The First Battalion Fourth Prince of Wales Own Gurkha Rifles (1/4GR) acted as the rearguard of the division. They suffered casualties from both friend and foe fire.

Major Dicky Day was a company commander of the 1/4GR and stated after the attacks: “We were bombed and strafed by the Japanese air force as well as our own air force and the American ‘flying tigers’. As we got to the river, we were strung out over miles, and the Japanese cut the division to pieces.”

Sappers had planned the railway bridge. Day’s Battalion were able to cross the bridge of the west end. They were keeping guard against paratroopers. The Japanese attacked the eastern bank in full force. Major-General Jacky Smyth made the tough decision to save Rangoon and blow up the bridge.

Two units were stranded on the eastern bank with the Japanese assailants. Due to desperation and close quarter guerrilla fighting, many were able to escape the Japanese by using ropes to cross the river. Others used rafts and sampans. Unfortunately, not everyone could survive the attack. Hundreds of men were either killed, drowned while trying to flee, or were captured by the Japanese.

Present Day Sittang Bridge
Present Day Sittang Bridge

The British and Indian units began the harrowing withdraw across central Burma to India, while the Japanese were searching for a way to attack Rangoon. More than 1,000 miles were traveled by foot and the journey took three and a half months. Day relayed how proud he was of his men. Though they were ragged, their uniforms in a sorry state, and they had withered away to skeletal shadows of men, they still had smiles on their faces.

Donald Sidney “Dicky” Day was born on August 3, 1922 in Cranleigh, Surrey. He attended the Royal Grammar School in Guildford. It was 1939 when he joined the Army and went to Bangalore. Here he took a course at the Indian Army Cadet College for four months. 1941, he was assigned to the 1/4 GR and had arrived in Rangoon in January 1942 with the rest of his unit. Together, they were all a part of the 48 Indian Infantry Brigade.

When Day recovered from back wounds,he rejoined active service in Monte Cassino, Italy. He helped to raise two new units of Gurkhas and became the units, 26th Gurkha Rifles.

When the war ended, he moved to Singapore and then Malaya. Here he worked for the British trading company, James Warren and Co. He eventually became the managing director of the operations in Malaya. He was also a reserve officer of the  6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles during the 1950s.

When he returned to England in 1964, he became a founder of an executive search and consultancy company. They provided assistance to British firms who were exporting to India and south-east Asian. In Sussex, he became interested in breeding game birds, managing locl shoots, and playing cricket. In 1978 in Hong Kong, he participated in the organization of the “Race of Giants” which former Formula 1 veterans raced against one another.

Major Dicky Day married twice. In 1944 he wed Anita Fairle, they divorced. He then married Jill Luscombe in 1956.

The Telegraph reports that Major Dicky Day died on September 28, 2013. He is survived by his wife, a daughter from his marriage with Ms. Fairle and a step son and a step daughter from his marriage with Mrs. Jill Day.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE