Louis Street enlisted with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada in September 1939 in Vancouver.
As one of the "originals", he was among the first group of Canadian soldiers to go overseas in December 1939. Louis served with the Seaforths in the Mortar Platoon throughout the Sicilian and Italian Campaigns until he was killed during the Battle of the Hitler Line on 23 May 1944.
This painting is a reproduction of a drawing that was done of Louis by a fellow soldier, A.E.McKay. It was one of the few personal possessions that were returned to his family after his death.
The Liri Valley
This excerpt from Mark Zuehlke’s book on the campaign in the Liri Valley highlights the devastation that day, 23 May 1944:
Gathering in the dead was a dreadful task; even grimmer was the burying of me who only hours before had lived and been friends. Seaforth Chaplain Major Roy Durnford worked to exhaustion bringing in the bodies. "The battlefield is carnage," he wrote in his diary. "We have to bury our own dead in a central cemetery. The job is unfair and awful. I will kick like a mule over this. Boys re-group a tattered remnant."
Among those detailed to burying the dead was Seaforth Sergeant Bill Worton. A section leader in the Seaforth mortar platoon, Worton had spent May 23 hurrying up and then waiting. The whole day had been nothing but confusion for the mortarmen while they waited for an order to either go forward or retreat. Shells and mortar rounds had burst all around. Private Lou Street was hit in the chest by shrapnel and died in Sergeant Al Girling’s arms.
German artillery and mortar fire hammered into the trees where the mortar platoon was and nobody had a clue what was going on up front. Worton and Lance Corporal Gordie Winning had crowded into the cover of a tree and prayed for the best. As they hunkered there, Private L.P. Gamba walked by. "Got a Canada", he said, "Got hit in the knee."
Winning said, "Well, get the hell out of here fast. It’s getting deadly here." Gamba staggered off and was never seen again. As the men gathered in the dead on May 24, Gamba was not among them. Yet he never reached the Regimental Aid Post. Like a number of other soldiers, Gamba was designated Missing in Action.
Mark Zuehlke, The Liri Valley, page 320 - 321.
This was the worst day of the war for the Seaforths, who, along with other units in the battle, suffered tremendous losses. The Seaforth’s suffered 210 casualties, the heaviest in one day that the battalion ever experienced throughout the entire war. The Hitler Line victory was to be the hardest won battle honour awarded the unit during the Second World War.
Both Louis Street and Peter Gamba are buried at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Cassino, Italy.
In Memory of Louis Street: A Personal Journey Into The Past
“Shortly before my Grandfather’s death, at about the time he became confined to his chair, he gave to me a family heirloom that, very unpredictably, was to be life altering. He and I had been going through all the old albums and letters in the drawers when I came upon his brother’s war medals. At 95, my Grandfather was sharp as a tack yet was unable to tell me any stories about his youngest brother, Louis.
Perhaps it was the fact that he had been twelve years his senior or perhaps it was because after Louis’ death nobody spoke of him. There were only three distinct memories that he’d attached to his brother: that his father, a veteran officer of the Boer War, had been terribly proud to lose a son in the war, that his mother had been devastated and never recovered and that he’d had a girlfriend in the UK while stationed there before the Italian campaign who kept in touch with his sister for several years after his brother’s death.
Had I not asked a few questions before my Grandfather passed away his memory would have been all but lost. There aren’t any existing letters written to home from the war, there had been no documents saved and no anecdotes fondly passed down through aunts and uncles, simply a name on a family tree.
Only my Grandfather remained from the wartime generation so I interviewed everyone still alive in the next generation that might have remembered Uncle Louis or at least remembered hearing stories of him. No one knew anything. Puzzled by my curiosity, some members of my family had inquired as to why I would care about a common foot soldier. This statement shocked me to the core.
Had nobody bothered to remember an uncle’s sacrifice for his country because he wasn’t a General or hadn’t performed any heroic deeds for the annals of history? I felt that surely this man deserved to be honoured reverently. What began as a simple quest to please my ailing Grandfather had become a passionate obsession that burned within me long after my Grandfather’s death. Someone needed to vindicate Uncle Louis’ life in service.
As a gesture toward my Grandfather in his last days, I took the medals down to our local Museum of the Regiments (now the Military Museums) to see if they were significant. I found that they were medals given for various tours of duty during the war. The medals, in effect, told the story of his military career. The veteran that was helping me out suggested that if I could locate my great uncles’ service number that I could apply to the National Archives in Ottawa for his records. This appealed to me greatly but I was at a loss as to how to get that number. My Grandfather certainly would have no idea what it was so I began to dig a bit deeper.
When, some time later, we had reached the very bottom of his bureau drawer we found the only other memento belonging to my Uncle Louis. Somehow his photo album from the years of training in England had found its way into my grandfather’s bedroom although he didn’t remember ever seeing it before.
As well as a few photographs and postcards, there was a lovely drawing rendered by a fellow soldier of my uncle while he slept in his bunk. I poured over the scant pages searching for any hint of a service number but there was nothing. Some time later, I was admiring the drawing again and it dawned on me that there was some kind of inscription on a duffle bag behind the figure of my uncle.
As I turned the sketch on end it very clearly revealed a five-digit number, carefully inscribed by the artist. I immediately filled in the form to be sent to the National Archives; hopeful that this might just be the number I was looking for. Had it not been for the artists’ diligence my search would have ended there, as any investigations I’d done on the internet had left me empty handed. Within a few weeks a package was returned to me, the complete veterans’ file on Louis Street. I was absolutely elated and so thankful to the artist who had paid such attention to detail.
Louis's Service Record
Armed with a wealth of new information I was compelled to retrace every footstep of his journey, to unearth every detail of his life in service. The next year was spent voraciously reading various versions of Regimental History, the official history as well as the soldier’s story. I now knew that Uncle Louis had been a member of the Seaforth Highlanders (based out of Vancouver, B.C.) and one of the very first men to enlist on September 15, 1939 after Canada had officially declared war on Germany. He had been one of the "originals" as they called them.
He was a highly trained member of the Mortar Platoon and courageously fought through a full year of almost constant battle with the 1st Canadian Division during the Italian Campaign until the day of his death, May 23rd, 1944 when the Seaforth's engaged in a massive effort to break through the Hitler Line enabling the allies to take Rome.
Regretting terribly that I not embarked on this search just a few years earlier, before the remaining siblings of my uncle died, I began to search outside the family for someone that might have known Uncle Louis. It was so important to me to connect with him through memories, of which my own family was completely void. Through the Regimental Association I put word out just before Christmas of 2001 that I was looking for anyone who might have known Louis Street.
The Regimental Association
Two fellows came forward at their Regimental Christmas dinner who had certainly remembered him and I was ever so grateful. They were as excited to discover me as I was to discover them and they both provided me with valuable testimony that my Uncle had been a great soldier and that I should feel terribly proud of his sacrifice.
One, who corresponded with me by mail, was his platoon commander, Bob Hackett, and the other, Bill Worton, who telephoned me directly, served in the same section. Bob and Bill had trained with Louis through the years in England and fought side by side with him until Louis met his end.
Bill was ten feet away when Louis was fatally wounded and described his final moments to me, something that I had been longing to know from the very beginning of my quest. I could not help but think myself incredibly lucky that the one person who might have been able to tell me about this experience was the only man still alive and well enough to remember it and relay it.
The events leading up to Uncle Louis’ death had been a significant memory for Bill, so much so that his story was repeated in Mark Zuehlke’s book, The Liri Valley.
I met with Mr. Worton last summer (2017) and he toured my Mother, Father and I through the Seaforth Highlanders’ Armoury in Vancouver. It was a wonderful afternoon in that magnificent building and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in their small museum. We located Louis’ photograph on the wall, the one taken just before the regiment’s departure to the U.K. and felt so proud of him there with all his comrades looking out at us from another era.
How many times I have wished I could transport myself back to that time, to be able to understand fully how the war impacted so many lives, so many families, and so many mothers.
Uncle Louis had lived twenty-seven years of life and all that remains are a few medals and a small album. I suppose that most lives pass this way, with very few memories or keepsakes to pass on but something touched me about this man. He has become my war hero and my children speak about him fondly and ask to hear more stories as though he were with us still today. He had been almost forgotten but never will be again.
By Karen Storwick
My Great Grand-Uncle
Louie Street was my Nana’s mom’s son. He went to World War II in 1939. Louie shot guns and threw grenades. Louie didn’t like killing people. He was a good teenager. The war was all over Europe. They used tanks and army jeeps. He was a ground soldier. The war ended in 1945.
The sad thing is that Louie never returned home again. He almost made it to the end, but he didn’t. Gunfire killed him. He died at age 18. Louie didn’t have a long life. Louie is a hero to me. He risked his life to fight for Canada. He also fought to make Canada a better place. That’s why we wear poppies and have the two minutes of silence on November 11th, to remember the people who fought for Canada.
Louie was buried in Italy. It was a sad day for my Nana’s mom when her eighteen-year-old son died. It happened to be that one of my family members is a hero. When he joined the Canadian army, Louie risked his life to fight for our country.
Louie’s mom was proud of Louie for joining the army but she was very sad when Louie left for war. When she got a knock on the door and two military men showed up and told her that Louie had died, it was the hardest day of her life.
So wear poppies on Remembrance Day to remember our heroes, like Louie.
By Trevor Epp
Grade 4, 2002