Thanks to Martin Middlebrook, many of us will be familiar with the story of Serjeant John William Streets who was killed in action on the 1st July 1916 near Serre serving with the Sheffield ‘Pals’, the 12th York & Lancaster Regiment. ‘Will’ Streets was a very bright lad who had to forego a place at his local grammar school owing to economic circumstances at home. He chose to sacrifice his formal education in order to put food on the family’s table and help clothe his siblings. In spite of such difficulties, he went on to write and had two books published. His book of poetry, “The Undying Splendour”, was published after his death in 1917. He gets a mention in “Arras North” owing to the fact that his brother, Private Arthur Robert STREETS, happens to be buried in Roclincourt Valley Cemetery. Like his brother, Arthur also fell in action on the opening day of a major British offensive, in his case the Battle of Arras. Arthur was killed serving with the 10th Lincolnshire Regiment. (The Grimsby Chums)
The title of chapter two of “Arras North” – ” A Couple of Poets…..” – is a reference to ‘Will’ Streets and, of course, Isaac Rosenberg, who fell in action in April 1918 serving with the 1st King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment). Although both men have headstones, their final resting place comes with a caveat; ‘Will’ Streets is believed to be buried in Euston Road Cemetery on the Somme and Rosenberg is known to be buried in Bailleul Road East Cemetery, St. Laurent-Blangy, though the precise spot cannot be determined.
By pure coincidence, another man buried in Roclincourt Valley Cemetery also had a brother with a talent for poetry. Second Lieutenant Owen Bennett Goold JOHNSON is buried in the next plot to Arthur STREETS. Like Arthur, he also fell on the opening day of the Battle of Arras. JOHNSON’s battalion, the 11th Suffolk Regiment, (Cambridgeshire) was part of the 103rd Brigade, which was part of the 34th Division, as indeed was the 10th Lincolnshire Regiment, the battalion to which STREETS belonged. JOHNSON’s brother, Lieutenant Donald Frederic Goold Johnson, is buried on the Somme at Bouzincourt Communal Cemetery Extension. He died of wounds on the 15th July 1916 serving with the 2nd Manchester Regiment.
Donald and his brother grew up in more fortunate circumstances than the Streets family. Donald went on to attend Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and in 1914 he carried off the prestigious Chancellor’s Gold Medal. The prize is awarded annually and entrants are invited to submit a poem on a theme set by the examining board towards the end of Michaelmas term and all entries have to be submitted by the 31st March. All entries must also be submitted anonymously, and although the topic is no longer prescribed, the award still exists.The prize also has its equivalent at Oxford in the form of the Newdigate Prize.
Donald’s winning entry, “The South Pole”, was his response to the theme set that year, which was Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic. Other winners of the medal have included Lord Tennyson and Giles Lytton Stracey, one of the founding members of the Bloomsbury Group. No prize was awarded in 1916. Donald happens to be buried in the same cemetery as another ‘Emmanuel’ man, 2nd Lieutenant Owen Llewellyn Johns, MC, who was killed serving with the 133rd Trench Mortar Battery, Royal Field Artillery.