Jeffery Day was the most famous poet in the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. Born in Huntingdonshire on 1 December 1896, he was educated at Repton School before receiving a commission as a sub-lieutenant in the RNAS at the age of 18 on 21 August 1915. He was first stationed aboard the seaplane carrier Vindex where he gained a reputation as a skilled and daring flyer and was promoted to flight lieutenant on 31 December 1916.
In August 1917 he was posted as a test pilot at Royal Naval Air Station Grain before seeing operational service.
From the first he showed exceptional skill as a pilot, and was chosen for work at sea that needed high technical accomplishment. But he was dissatisfied with the comparative inactivity of the life afloat and secured his transfer to a fighting squadron on the Western Front. [Edward Hilton Young: Preface to Jeffery Day’s Poems and Rhymes]
On 19 December 1917 Day joined No. 13 Squadron RNAS, seeing action over a period of six weeks during which he destroyed a total of five enemy planes. For these actions he was awarded the DSC “for great skill and bravery as a fighting pilot”. But by the time that announcement was gazetted on 16 March 1918 Day was already dead.
On 27 February 1918, leading a flight of five aircraft, Day was shot down by six German aircraft which he attacked single-handed, out at sea. His commanding officer reported:
He hit the enemy and they hit his machine, which burst into flames; but, not a bit flurried, he nose-dived, flattened out, and landed perfectly on the water. He climbed out of his machine and waved his fellow-pilots back to their base; being in aeroplanes they could not assist him. [Jeffery Day, Poems and Rhymes, p. 8]
An air-sea search was launched within an hour and a half of him ditching, but no trace was ever found of him or his aircraft.
Day had begun writing poems during his spare time – initially writing humorous verses, he began writing longer serious poems, encouraged by his friend Edward Hilton Young. Although only three of his poems were published during his lifetime – ‘On the Wings of the Morning’, ‘An Airman’s Dream’ and ‘To My Brother’ – a collection of his poems – Poems and Rhymes – was published posthumously in 1919. The preface was written by Edward Hilton Young, himself a poet, who was introduced to Day by fellow-pilot author Erskine Childers.
Jeffery Day’s Poems:
Resources for Jeffery Day
‘The North Sea – Miles Jeffrey Game Day’ The Great War at Sea Poetry
Flight Commander Jeffrey Day DSC RNAS The Great War Forum
‘The pilot poet Jeffrey Day’ Simon Davies’ blog
Poems and Rhymes on Internet Archive