Edward George Day

The Drummoyne War Service Record lists the names of hundreds of men and women from the district who enlisted in the armed forces during the 1914-1918 War. Typically, memorials show only the surname and initials of those commemorated. As such, it is often difficult to discern much about the person associated with each name.

Sometimes, the letters after the name hint at the valour or service of those awarded honours. They can also indicate if an individual was killed in action, died of war-related injuries or from disease. In other instances, the letters P.O.W. reference the horrors of internment and its indelible effect on those imprisoned.

In 2014 the More than Just a Name Multi-Media Project was undertaken by the City of Canada Bay Library in conjunction with a number of local schools. It attempted to provide a better picture of the men and women from the district who a century before “answered their country’s call”. The project compiled a register of names and brief service details drawn from local memorials. The details allowed a better understanding of the diversity of those who volunteered. In doing so, it provided a basis for further research of social and military history as well as facilitating family history enquiries.

The name, “E.G. Day” is listed in the Drummoyne War Service Record with little further information to suggest who this person was or the life they lived. The limited information and apparent anomalies relating to this person in official sources, make it difficult to relate to the individual behind the name, much less understand the society in which they lived.

Of course, there are gaps:  names where few details are available or the related information is incongruous. Sometimes the “facts” are not as represented or may be somewhat selective. It is important to keep in mind the perspective, purpose and possible motives of those recording the information and to accept that as more details are revealed our understanding of the person may change.

One piece of impartial information was that E.G. Day had served in the Royal Australian Navy. This meant he was male since women did not serve in the navy until 1941. It also meant that the digitised army service records summarised in the AIF Project were not available. The RAN used a card system to record the basic details of navy personnel, but without knowing what the initials “E. G” stood for, even this remained a mystery.

The key was to try a few of the most common names used at that time. E for Edward and G for George worked. This was cross-checked with dates of enlistment and service on particular ships. The More than Just a Name register confirmed Edward George Day enlisted in August 1914 and served on HMAS Sydney. The RAN records provided other information such as date of birth, next of kin and an address. All of these were possible leads, but on further investigation, Edward Day’s life was far more complicated than these bare facts suggested.

Edward George Day was born on 5 May 1895 in Swindon, in the English county of Wiltshire. His family emigrated to Australia in November 1911 on board the ship “Ballarat”. The passenger list describes Edward, his father Walter and brother John as farmhands.

Day enlisted in the R.A.N. in April 1913. His enlistment papers show his address as 10 Kenwick Street, Drummoyne. (Probably “Renwick Street” as there was no Kenwick Street, Drummoyne). He served on HMAS Sydney (Service No. 2849) until his discharge in July 1916.

Day married Charlotte Pearl Sweaney in September 1917 under the name of Walter Edward George Day. He and his wife lived at Meredith Street, Bankstown, which was also the address of his father, Walter Edward Day.

In July 1919, Day enlisted in the RAN Sea Transport Unit (Service No. 86153). Navy records show that at the time he was married with two children under the age of three. On his enlistment application, Day claimed to have completed a three-year apprenticeship as a motor mechanic, but gave no details as to when this was or if he was ever employed in this trade.

He signed up for two years but was dismissed after only a few months, despite being fit and well. No reason was given, however, two doctors from the Mental Unit, where Day had been working as an Attendant, declared he should be “Discharged as permanently unfit for general service”.   

At this point, Day’s life began to unravel. Returning to Australia in February 1920, he soon spent what money he received from his military service, but continued to write cheques for which he had insufficient funds. According to a newspaper report (“Truth” 26 October 1924 p13) his wife was forced to look for employment to pay these debts.

Day was employed as a bus driver. His route took him along Parramatta Road, Homebush where he regularly stopped at a shop on that road. He became acquainted with a young girl living there with whom he formed “an improper relationship”. The girl was 14 years of age at the time and the relationship continued for more than a year before the girl confessed to her mother that she was pregnant. The mother confronted Day and demanded he marry the girl to avoid the social stigma of such an affair as well as provide some security for her future. Day agreed to the proposal, despite being already married.

Day married Rita Elizabeth Nellie Rogers at St Annes Church, Homebush on 22 October 1924. Inevitably, Day’s wife became aware of the marriage and informed the police. Day was charged with carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 16 and sentenced to two years gaol with hard labour after pleading guilty. The main photograph was taken on Day’s admission to Long Bay Gaol, Sydney.

Day’s wife was granted a divorce in 1926 on the grounds of adultery. He was now living with divorcee Ethel May Knight. On 29 December 1928, Day married Catherine May Campbell, who left him in April 1929, returned briefly, but left permanently in August. At the time Day was described as an insurance agent and assistant superintendent for A.M.P. Society in St. Peters district. (Truth paper, 23/2/1930: also 14/9/1930)

In October 1929 Day was admitted to Lewisham Hospital with a leg or hip injury. During his month-long hospital stay, he was visited by his former lover Ethel May Knight and the two became engaged. Day now called himself Reginald George O’Day and described himself as a painter and decorator. The couple married in November at the Newtown Registry Office. The ruse was soon discovered and despite Day’s best efforts to disguise his identity, he was arrested and charged with bigamy. Day was sentenced to 9 months hard labour in Maitland Gaol.

In October 1930 Day bizarrely married Joyce Florence Cameron in Christ Church St Laurence in George Street, Sydney. After a five-day honeymoon in a Surry Hills Hotel, Day disappears.

In April 1931 Catherine May Campbell was granted a decree absolute in divorce from Edward Day and in September, Day once again heard wedding bells and married Ethel Loma Heyman in Kyogle.  Six months later Day was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment in Maitland Gaol for his marriage and deception of Joyce Cameron. On this occasion, Day was described in the court sentencing documents as an electrician.

Day married once more in 1935, this time in Melbourne to Irene Evelyn Vinnicome. In 1939 his marriage to Ethel Loma Heyman was dissolved on the grounds of desertion for 3 years. Day remained with Irene Vinnicome until his death in December 1956.

Whereas often there is little known or can be discovered about most “names” on a memorial list, E.G. Day turned out to be an exception. By any measure, he lived a remarkable life. “Truth” newspaper accused him of “forgetting that he had a wife and child” and while it was meant sarcastically, it may not be altogether too wide of the mark, since he seems to have been a ‘Walter Mitty” type character – always dreaming of what he might be and unable to come to terms with what was real. No doubt he lived in a world of his own imagination, adopting half a dozen aliases and marrying seven times. He possibly believed he was all of the various occupations he claimed to be at different times. What emerges from this is a picture of someone that is more than just a name. One can make judgements, either favourable or not, about that person’s response to life situations in which they found themselves, but at least they are relatable.

Andrew West


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