Tributes to Churchill's bodyguard Bill 'Happy' Day
AN EAST Yorkshire lad who rose from the ranks to become Winston Churchill's bodyguard has died at his home in Australia.
Royal Marine Bill Day – known as 'Happy' to friends and family – accompanied the British Prime Minister to the historic Tehran Conference in November 1943.
The Big Three – Joseph Stalin, Franklin D Roosevelt and Churchill – were there to debate opening a second front against Adolf Hitler, a decision that helped win the Second World war.
Bill was charged with the safekeeping of the Sword of Stalingrad, presented by Churchill to Stalin at the conference.
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Speaking from his home in Australia, Bill's son, Peter Day, said: "He was happy to tell me stories about Churchill and about working as his bodyguard.
"He told me he watched Churchill practise his speeches. I suppose he was one of the few people to see Churchill like that.
"And he told me Churchill doubled his pay when he got the job as his bodyguard. He found out later it had come from the Prime Minister's own pocket."
Bill, who has died aged 95 at his home in Victoria, leaving his wife, son and daughter, became Churchill's bodyguard as part of a distinguished military career.
Born in February 1917 in Hull, his early years were spent at Ridgmont Farm, Burstwick, run by his family. But family finances were tight and in 1934 Bill joined the Royal Marines.
When the war started he was promoted from corporal to sergeant, and immediately volunteered for conflict, becoming part of the early Commandos.
He received training in demolition, parachuting, glider insertion and silent killing.
In 1942 Bill participated in the abortive Dieppe raid, which saw 60 per cent of the main force of Canadians either killed or captured. He landed with 40 Royal Marine Commando, which neutralised a battery of big guns on high ground and successfully withdrew.
Churchill had been heavily involved in the planning of that raid, so perhaps Bill's bravery brought him to his the attention. Whatever the reason, he was able to take his place at an historic occasion.
But his heroics were far from over; when D-Day arrived Bill was a Company Sergeant Major and leading 30 Assault Unit Commando up Utah beach. The aim was to seize valuable German navy cyphers.
The mission changed when information was received the hitherto U-Boat admiral, Karl Doenitz, who was then commanding the entire German navy, was in Paris. Bill's group was sent to capture Doenitz at the Rothschild mansion but he escaped.
Bill returned to the UK to rebuild the unit and receive additional special glider training for the crossing of the Rhine.
It was during that time he met his future wife, Marie, who was then a Non-Commissioned Officer in the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
The couple were cajoled by friends into accepting a blind date at a dance. They courted by walking the country lanes of Cornwall.
But romance had to wait, Bill duly crossed the Rhine into Germany and participated in a successful task to capture an experimental submarine, which used hydrogen propulsion technology, at the naval base in Kiel. The boat was handed over to the Royal Navy and they took it back to UK.
The marine finished the war in Stettin, Poland, liberating the Nazi concentration camp, Stalag XI B.
After such distinguished service, Bill was decorated with a Gallantry Medal, Six Campaign and Long Service Medals, and was awarded the second highest possible British military honour – the Distinguished Service Medal presented by King George VI.
He married Marie in her home town of Bolton and they had two children, Peter and Janet.
Peter said: "After a successful career in industry he brought my sister and me out to Australia.
"As a boy I would sit on his knee and listen to his stories about being in Downing Street with Churchill.
"My father never gloried in war – he was a modest man.
"He still talked about Hull and how he used to deliver groceries when he was a boy. He talked with great affection about Hull.
"But he'd been a boy without a sustaining home life and family was very important to him.
"I'm proud of what he achieved. It wasn't bad for a depression-years Hull boy."