Wednesday 25 October 2023

Len (Happy) Day

 This day 100 years ago, the Dreadnought Scheme was getting back into full swing after the break due to World War II. A group of 40 Dreadnought Boys were on their way to Australia. One of these was Leonard Victor Day.

 Len Day was born on the 2nd May 1907 in Stoke-Newington in North London. He was the youngest of 6 children born to John and Eleanor Day. As a 16-year-old, he decided to join the Dreadnought Scheme. He travelled from London to Sydney on the SS Diogenes, arriving on 24 November 1923. That night he was put on the SS Orana as a steerage passenger to Byron Bay, on the NSW far north coast. They left Sydney at 10 pm on the Saturday night and arrived in Byron Bay in the early hours of Monday morning. To Len’s surprise, they had heaved-to for a couple of hours on Sunday while everyone, crew and captain, had fished at some special offshore fishing spots. (This was common practice when fair weather had given the ship a good run up the coast.)  

 He caught the train from Byron Bay. He had been told he would be met at the station in South Lismore, but no one was there when he arrived. He did not really know where he was going but, with the help of a local taxicab driver, he was able to confirm by phone that he was expected at the Government’s Experiment Farm at Wollongbar. Len Day was the only one of his group to be sent to the Wollongbar Farm.

 He spent six months at Wollongbar—the first three months were focussed on farm-work training; he received £6 at the start and £5 at the end from the Dreadnought Trust. In the second three months he was paid 7/6d a week by the Farm. After leaving the Farm he went to work at Pimlico for Bert and Harry Walsh on their dairy and a banana plantation. Another Dreadnought Boy, Pat Knight, also worked for them and he and Len were known as ‘Day and Night’. He didn’t mind the cows but carrying the banana bunches, sometimes with a snake included, down the hill on his back, was sheer hard work. His comments were not appreciated.

 His next job was on a cane farm, working with a share-farmer. After three weeks, the share-farmer went to hospital. Len still did his work, but word came from the hospital to ‘tell that bloody Pommie to get off the farm’, with no mention of the wages (over £5) that he was owed. He went to the farm owner, Jim Curran, who told him to keep working and that he would see he was paid, which he did. Curran then got him a job at Paddy Walsh’s butcher shop in Wardell. This was a happy time and he spent two years there. While the work was hard and of long hours, he had the opportunity to learn about butchering and retail trade. During this time, he earned thirty shillings plus his food per week. Eventually he left, on good terms with Paddy, to go to a dairy at Clunes.

 His eighteen months at Clunes with Jack Gallagher was a very happy time. When he left there, he went to Lismore to sell gramophones, pianolas and radios, but met with very little success. This was followed by a job repairing and repolishing second-hand furniture, which was not successful either.

Next was a job painting the buildings at the Lismore Showground, at 12/- a day. When this was finished the Show Society secretary asked him to bury a horse—half a day’s work paying six shillings. This led to further work, as an epidemic had hit the horses.

 After this, it was back to farming at Richmond Hill, Nimbin and Corndale, with wages getting less all the time. He next job was cutting lawns in Lismore. He could cut four lawns a day at 25/- each. Gardening was 4/- a half day and on Saturday he washed four cars at 2/- each - these cars belonged to government agricultural officers. At this stage, Hodge’s seed shop opened in Keen Street and, for 4/- per half day, he helped to introduce a new laying and growing mash to the Lismore poultry farmers. The success was such that he had to give up his gardens and car washing, and he was given a weekly wage and annual holidays. Len had found his niche in retail sales to the farm sector, and he stayed for quite some time.

 On 29 January 1938, Len Day married Marjorie Edith (Madge) Smalley in Lismore.

Len Day (1940)

Len enlisted in the army in July 1940, and was away until November 1945. He served with the 2nd/4th Battalion in Darwin during the Japanese raids, and then in New Guinea from late 1944.

After the war, Len joined the Sunshine Nursery in Lismore where he stayed until 1951. He and Madge then moved to Casino, where he purchased a plant nursery in Colches Street and a small retail nursery/florist shop in Barker Street, to be known as ‘LV Day’. They moved to larger premises in Barker Street and started selling horse-drawn and early-model tractor equipment. This business became known as ‘LV Day and Co.’, when he took on Trevor Mallet and Harold Smith as partners. From a small beginning it grew to become one of the largest tractor and machinery outlets in Australia. It is still known as ‘Days’.

Len and Madge travelled widely, both locally and overseas. They were able to visit his sister Nell, living in the south of England. Len was a Rotarian for many years and this gave rise to travel. He was also a founding member of the Casino Probus Club. Len died on 16 November 1994, aged 87 years. Madge survived him until her death in June 1997.

Len Day’s life in Australia fulfilled the original aims of the Dreadnought Scheme in every sense. As well as farm-work and soldiering, Len was also able to contribute, as a supplier to the farming industry over many years – and being Len Day!


(From photo by Sandra & Warren Cockbain)