My final story of men with links to Sheffield is about John William Streets – one of the lesser know War Poets.
William – or Will as he was better known – was born in 1886 in Whitwell in North Derbyshire, the eldest of 12 children. He was academically and artistically gifted and in a different era would probably have gone on to University and an amazing career. He was offered a place at the local grammar school which even then would have offered him a way out of poverty and away from the coal mines. However, to help feed his brothers and sisters, he turned this down and worked down the local pit as a coal miner. All the time he was working, he self educated himself – reading avidly and learning French. On Sunday’s he would work as a Sunday School teacher at his local church.
Will was not in favour of the war and hated violence, but like most men enlisted in the army in September 1914 because he felt it was his duty to do so and joined the 12th Battalion of the York and Lancaster regiment – the Sheffield Pals. He clearly made an impression on the officers as he was made a sergeant.
Whilst in the army, Will Streets wrote poetry. He sent many of them home with letters. His battalion would face action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme – on the 1st July 1916. This would be the bloodiest day in British military history as nearly 20,000 British and Commonwealth troops were killed on the first day of the battle – the majority during the first hour of the battle. Will was one of these casualties. His body was not found for another 10 months. A year after his death, a book of his poems was published posthumously entitled The Undying Splendour. He is buried at Euston Road Cemetery near the village of Colincamps in France – the same cemetery my great uncle is buried, which is why I become familiar with the story of a self educated, gifted, gentle man who wrote beautiful poetry.