SERJEANT JOHN WILLIAM STREETS
YORK AND LANCASTER REGIMENT
1ST JULY 1916 AGE 31
BURIED: EUSTON ROAD CEMETERY, COLINCAMPS, FRANCE
He died for love of race; because the blood
Of northern freemen swelled in his veins; arose
True to tradition that like mountain stood
Impregnable, crown'd with its pathless snows,
When broke the call, from the sepulchred years
Strong voices urged and stirr'd his soul to life;
The call of English freemen fled his fears
And led him (their true son) into the strife.
There in the van he fought thro' many a dawn,
Stood by the forlorn hope, knew victory;
Proud, scorning Death, fought with a purpose drawn
Sword-edged, defiant, grand for Liberty.
He fell; but yielded not his Englsih soul -
That lives out there beneath the battle's roll.
Serjeant Street's inscription comes from one of his own poems, An English Soldier, first published in September 1916 in Erskine MacDonald's Soldier Poets: Songs of the Fighting Men and later in a collected edition of his own poetry, The Undying Splendour , May 1917 . However, his mother slightly altered the words of the original so that where Streets wrote "He fell", Clara Streets has changed it to "I fell", and where the final line reads, "That lives out there" she has put, "out here" so that Streets is now speaking directly to the reader from his grave.
John William Streets left school at 14. Although he won a place at the local grammar school he chose instead to go to work in the local colliery. As the eldest of 10 children, the family could do with the money he earned. In the 1901 census he was 15 and working as a colliery pony driver, driving the ponies that pulled the tubs from the coal face to the bottom of the shaft. By the 1911 census he was a hewer, working at the coal face.
Despite leaving school, Streets continued to study, teaching himself Latin and Greek and taking a correspondence course in French. He painted and drew, sang in the choir at his local Wesleyan Chapel and taught at the Sunday School. Surviving notebooks reveal his love of the Derbyshire countryside around Whitwell where the family lived, and his developing interest in poetry and writing.
Streets enlisted in the 12th Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment, the Sheffield Pals, and went with them to Egypt in December 1915. Two months later the battalion transferred to the Western Front and three months after this they took part in the attack on the heavily fortified village of Serre on 1 July 1916. At the end of the day Streets was missing having been known to have been wounded. It was May 1917 before Street's body was found, identified and buried, the same month that Undying Splendour was published.
He was a good soldier, as confirmed by a senior officer in the regiment, Major Alfred Plackett, in a letter to Streets' publisher in April 1917:
I understand you are publishing a book of the verses of Sergt. J.W. Streets. If his verses are as good as his reputation as a soldier you may rest assured that the book will be a great success.
... He was conspicuous amongst a battalion of brave men who formed the left wing battalion of the great Allied advance on the 1st July. He fell along with the remainder of his comrades, and he died as he had lived ... a MAN.
Need I say more?
It was a privilege to command such men.