The Undying Splendour
All of the information here is reproduced with the express permission of Mr. Harold Streets the nephew of J.W.S. None of this material may be reproduced without his permission. (The information below is faithfully reproduced from the original of the book. Some confusion appears as J.W.S. was actually in the 12th Battalion, York. and Lanc. Regiment)
This document contains some of the work of Sergeant John William Streets, 13th Battalion York. & Lanc. Regiment. His papers have been deposited with the Imperial War Museum so that they may be studied by interested persons.
The other poems from the book are listed on the left. Using the 'UP' link from those pages will bring you back here to the index of the poetry.
The War Time Poems of Sergt. John William Streets,
May 1997 sees the 80th. anniversary of the original printing of this little book of poems by my Uncle, John William Streets, and as there seems to be a not inconsiderable interest in his Poems , I have taken it upon myself to make this book available again. The original publication (by Erskine Macdonald Ltd.) was of slightly smaller size (7" x 4½") than this one and had a hard back. The paper on which it is printed is very thick and, we think, possibly hand made, because the page edges are very uneven and do not appear to have been trimmed in any way. The original back was of plain blue with a title printed on white paper and secured to the hard back. The cover of this edition is of my own design. I hope you find the Poems in this book of interest, and perhaps they will bring a little insight into the life and times of an ordinary young man in times of War.
I am indebted to Robert Illett for the article MILITARY BACKGROUND describing the formation and history of the Regiment.
Harold W. Streets.
For further copies and information ring me on 01909-486773
Great Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914 on the basis of her understanding with France and because of her treaty obligations to Belgium. She was essentially a maritime power with a small but skilled regular army and a part time territorial army raised primarily for home defence.
Lord Kitchener, the newly appointed Secretary of State for War, realising that the war would not be over by Christmas and that Britain would have to fight as a continental power called for volunteers to create a new army.
Many towns and cities, particularly in the North, raised their own battalions (approximately 1000 men to the battalion) equipped them and then arranged for the locally raised battalion to be taken into war office control. Because many young men joined up together so they could serve together such new battalions were known as "Pals" Battalions. Sheffield raised such a battalion which became the 12th battalion of the Yorks & Lancs Regiment and was known as The Sheffield City Battalion.
It was into this battalion that 29 year old John William Streets of Portland Street, Whitwell in North Derbyshire enlisted. It would have been a combination of his intellect and his experience as a miner which quickly saw him made a Sergeant in D Company. No doubt because of his understanding of the need for self discipline and the mutual support of colleagues learnt in the colliery, he readily accepted army life regarding drill as the "foundation of the science of movement".
The battalion underwent its basic training at a specially constructed camp at Redmires where it eventually received proper uniforms and equipment to move to Cannock Chase in May 1915 and Ripon in July of that year for more advanced training eventually leaving for Egypt in December to protect the Suez Canal from the Turk following the failure of the Gallipoli campaign.
On the Western Front in Europe the original regular battalions who left for France had been destroyed in the 1914 fighting and the territorials had suffered grievously in the 1915 battles.
Late in 1915 it was decided that the French and British Armies would make a joint attack in the spring of 1916 on either side of the River Somme in Picardy. The Germans did not however obligingly sit and wait and launched their own attack against the French at Verdun in February 1916. The battle became a "mincing machine" and French losses made it impossible for them to join the 1916 campaign as envisaged.
This left the British to take on the major burden of the Somme attack with a substantial part of the troops involved being from the new armies.
The City Battalion arrived in Marseilles from Egypt in March 1916 and travelled by train to an area to the North of the small town of Albert where it remained until the start of the Somme offensive.
The 12th. Yorks and Lancs were one of four infantry battalions in 94 Brigade which was part of the 31st. (Pals) Division, the other battalions were the 13th. Yorks and Lancs (1st. Barnsley Pals), the 14th.. Yorks and Lancs (2nd. Barnsley Pals) and the 11th. East Lancs (Accrington Pals).
The men of the New Armies regarded the Battle of the Somme as their opportunity to right the wrongs done by the Germans and show that right would prevail and that bullying would not succeed. This was to be "The Big Push" which would push the Germans back to Berlin.
The British attack line ran for some 18 miles from a position facing the fortified village of Serre in the North to the village of Montauban to the South East and was in fact all to the North of the River Somme. It was to be the task of the 31st Division to capture Serre and to form a blocking flank to prevent German reinforcements being sent from the North.
An artillery bombardment for seven days before the infantry attack plus the explosion of 10 mines on the day was planned to destroy the German fortifications and cut up the barbed wire which protected the front line. Rain fell solidly for days before the attack making movement in the trenches difficult and in some cases untenable.
The infantry attack went in at 7.30a.m. on the 1st July and the tactics adopted by the 31st. Division were appropriate and sensible. In the City Battalion A & C Companies went and laid out in No Man's Land before 7.30a.m. so that they could reach the German lines the quicker, not for them the tactic adopted elsewhere of men walking over from their own trenches to occupy the alleged empty enemy trenches. However one of the mines just to the South of the 31st. Division position was blown at 7.20a.m. and the barrage lifted at the same time giving the Germans time to man their trenches before the whistles blew for the infantry to attack. Further, the wire had not been in any way substantially cut and the infantry were caught in No Man's Land by rifle fire, machine guns and artillery.
Will Streets' Company was in the second wave of the attack but suffered 50% casualties just in reaching the British front line. Wounded in No Man's Land, Will was making his way back to the first aid post when he returned to assist a member of his platoon who had been injured, and he was never seen again. A lad from Creswell, the next village to Whitwell, reported seeing him further back at a Causality Clearing Station but must have been mistaken.
The attack on Serre was a failure and indeed the village was never captured but was abandoned by the Germans when they retreated to the Hindenburg line in February 1917. It was not until then that many of the bodies could be recovered from No Man's Land having laid there for over six months. Identification was difficult but it is believed that Will Streets' body was recovered and is buried in Euston Road Military Cemetery at Colincamps a short distance from the point where the City battalion launched its attack on the 1st July.
Will Streets is not the only poet to be associated with this area for on the 7th November 1915 within a few yards of the point where he was killed, Roland Leighton, the fiancé of Vera Brittain, was killed by being shot in the stomach while commanding a wiring party in No Man's Land, and Wilfred Owen served in the area during the later stages of the Battle of the Somme in the Autumn of 1916.
The City Battalion lost more than half its strength as casualties on the 1st July 1916. John Harris whose novel "Covenant with Death" is based on the Sheffield City Battalion gives its history as "Two years in the making. Ten minutes in the destroying".
Mr. R. Illett
Here the soul of young England is revealed. Here we see the wakening to duty and the Vision Splendid which led noble spirits by a horrible road to the redemption of a world grown grey with doubt and timidity and evils too grievous to be longer borne. Here is an epitome of the stern, resolute temper with which the crisis was met and the inevitable questionings faced. Here the Kitchener's men become articulate, and in passionate sincerity a son of the people, with that perfected utterance and intensity of emotion which distinguishes poetry above all literature and redeems from decay the speech of the Divine in man to men, concentrates in a few sonnets the feelings, experiences, aspirations of the youth who have marched through death to the moral and material salvation of Europe. Here is one of the finest of the countless examples of the heroic in literature provided by the war literature translated into action, action infused with calm seriousness and interpreted into poetry.
Sergt. Streets sought before the war to give literary expression to the life he knew. A long poem dealing with coal mining, the work in which he was engaged when the war called him from the pit, impressed Mr. Herbert Trench when he was acting as adjudicator of the POETRY REVIEW premium poems five years ago. This realism- no pseudo-stuff, artificially sought out for literary purposes-was developed by the war, and the sonnets that came, first from training camp and afterwards from the trenches, written in pencil on scraps of paper stained with mud and sent off unpolished lest the death that lurked by day and night all round should suddenly strike and, as eventually did happen, destroy the poems with the poet, developed a rare spirituality and an unequalled intensity of expression. The last of them to reach the present writer were passed on to Mr. H.B. Irving, who was making a choice from various suggestions and personal preferences of what to read at a meeting of the Poetry Society, following an address by Sir Hubert Warren on "The Appeal of Poetry to our Day," and Mr. Irving chose the trench poems, and profoundly impressed the audience, who were thrilled by their dignity, beauty, and application to the occasion. These sonnets were accompanied by an illuminating letter, in which Streets explained
"They were inspired while I was in the trenches, where I have been so busy I have had little time to polish them. I have tried to picture some thoughts that pass through a man's brain when he dies. I may not see the end of the poems, but hope to live to do so. We soldiers have our views of life to express, though the boom of death is in our ears. We try to convey something of what we feel in this great conflict to those who think of us, and sometimes, alas! mourn our loss. We desire to let them know that in the midst of our keenest sadness for the joy of life we leave behind, we go to meet death grim-lipped, clear eyed, and resolute-hearted."
In these words the author affords a sufficient introduction to this collection - a justification of his poems and of the noble purpose with which he exercised his gift of expression. Of him as a soldier his Commanding Officer and Company Officer have volunteered to write on hearing that this volume was in preparation, and their tributes form an appropriate part of this brief introduction.
Firness Hospital for Officers
It is given to few men to win the confidence of their comrades as completely as did Sergt.Streets. In training, in Egypt, and in the trenches on the Somme he was always to be counted on both by his officers and the men under him. His fellow N.C.O.'s would be the first to endorse this opinion. Steady-eyed and rather stolid, he gave an impression of coolness even under extreme tension. The only time we ever saw him shaken was when he lost several of his section, with whom he had lived and trained for over eighteen months.
Yet he was not of those who ignore danger; rather, he faced it and found the cause more than sufficient compensation. At the time of writing, little hope remains of Sergt. Streets having survived July 1st. When he was reported missing, few of us who knew him had much hope of seeing him again. We knew that Streets was not the man easily to surrender. Perhaps he could have no better or more fitting epitaph.
R. E. J. MOORE,
III. THE GENIUS.
IV. THE LOVERS.
V. THE WORKMAN.
VI. THE PORTENT.
VIII. THE CALL.
IX. YOUTH'S CONSECRATION.
X. THE SACRIFICE.
XII. THEIR IMMORTALITY.
XIII. LAST VISION.
" 0 Liberty, at thy command, we challenge death."
(A PERSONAL NOTE FROM A CHUM, NOW A SCHOOLMASTER AND MISSION WORKER)
This line, taken from one of the poems of J.W.S., tells in essence the reason that led one who hated War to go from that quiet North Derbyshire village to make one of the millions who are fighting for us and our Allies. Of his life as a soldier, others can speak with far greater insight and knowledge than the writer of these lines.
Born in the same village, attending the same Sunday school, playing in the same cricket team, finally coming to intimacy, the ideals and pursuits of J.W.S. flowed into our common chat. Condemned, as he was, to toil from boyhood in the mine, and also to environment that wounded his sensitive nature, his was yet ever the search after the beautiful and the true.
His aspirations, emotions, and ideals found expression in a multiple field. As a worker in the small Wesleyan community of his village, he did noble service in the Sunday School, and yet, perhaps, his greatest joy was to form one of that enthusiastic small choir that helped in the ministry of praise. Early, too, he tried to express himself with the brush, and gave great promise, though always the call of a written mode of expressing himself was with him.
When the final bent was yet in doubt, though assuredly tending to the call of poetic form, war came. This sheared away any doubt that remained, destroyed a certain anaemic tinge in his make-up, crystallised his thoughts, and gave, in lines like those in the sonnet " Gallipoli," the fine spirit and real feeling that had been germinating within him and striving after expression for years.
His poems tell, however, the secret of his whole life, which was an untiring love of nature. Together, we have tracked the hedgehog to his hiding-place; together, we have lain on summer evenings in the glorious woodlands of our native place, attempting to drink in-nay, become part of-its very life; together, we have learned the calls of all its feathered habitants; together, we have searched out all its rarest flowers; together, we have drunk its beauties through all the seasons. Shall we again?