France's tribute to crashed Lancaster bomber crew
"At 8.17pm on August 15, 1943, Lancaster bomber DV 186 left RAF Syerston, Nottingham, on a raid on Milan.
"At 4.03am on August 16, the people of La Vespière, Normandy, were woken by the sound of a firefight above the town between the Lancaster and a fighter of the German Luftwaffe.
"The Lancaster was on fire and crashed on a farmhouse at Bosc-Robert. Two adults and one child were killed.
"It appears that Ronald Steer, the pilot of the bomber, kept the aircraft level and steady until five members of his crew bailed out. He was then able to jump himself.
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"When daylight came, the five crew members were found very close together. They were all dead. Their parachutes had been destroyed by fire. Ronald was found about a mile away. He was also dead and his parachute had also been destroyed by fire.
"The rear gunner was later found trapped in the crashed aircraft.
"On August 16, 2013, the people of La Vespière unveiled two memorials to mark the 70th anniversary of the crash, and my family and I were invited to attend.
"The first memorial was at the crash site at Bosc-Robert. Approximately 200 people attended.
"Serge Saint, the mayor of La Vespière, made a speech of welcome and said that the municipality had decided to raise the memorials in order that the ten victims of the tragic event should not be forgotten.
"He also thanked Michel Poussard (France) and Harold Heys (England) for their hard work and dedication in researching the event. We then returned to the town hall where the second memorial was unveiled.
"After a very good lunch we were taken to the Commonwealth war graves cemetery at Saint Desir, 18 miles from La Vespière to pay our respects to the crew – Ronald Steer, Fred Clough, Arthur Hulmes, Peter Salmond, Henry Webster, Robert Scott and Joseph-David Pigeau, who was Canadian.
"Flowers were laid on each grave. We then returned to La Vespière churchyard to pay respects to the civilian victims.
"It was a very moving day and I must say a very big thank you to the people of La Vespière.
"It gives me a very warm feeling to know that Ronald and his crew and the three civilians who died that morning are not forgotten."
British, Canadian and French officials were present, including the military attaches to the British and Canadian embassies, the prefect of Basse-Normandie, councillors and members of ex-servicemen's associations.
Ronald Steer was only 21 when he died, but even before he joined the RAF he knew from devastating personal experience what war could do.
He had grown up in Banwell, just a few miles east of Weston-super-Mare, with his grandmother, Eliza Jane Steer, and on the night of September 4, 1940, Mrs Steer and four other villagers were killed when a lone German bomber dropped five bombs on the town. Fifty others were hurt.
The Western Daily Press told of that terrible night a few weeks ago when we previewed the Steer family's journey to France. Researcher Harold Heys told of the plane crashing in flames, but it is Mr Steer who has supplied the pathetic extra detail of the parachutes opened but destroyed, of the rear gunner trapped in his seat…
Mr Heys believes that Mrs Steer's death may have been a spur to her grandson's decision to join the RAF – that he wanted revenge. But the former Bristol Grammar School boy was also a Salvationist who had stood in the open air in his uniform on his last leave, speaking of his love for his Saviour. He must also have been motivated by a desire to beat the Nazi oppressors and bring the war to an end.
Ronald is thought to have been living with his mother in Keynsham when the bombs fell on Banwell. After leaving school he went to work for a baker in Weston-super-Mare, and lived with friends in the town's Alexandra Parade.
He played cornet in the band and was chum leader of the junior section of the corp's boy Scouts. John Steer was just eight years old when his cousin died – two years younger than the farm boy who was killed when Ronald's plane crashed on the French farmhouse.
Now aged 77, John and his wife went to France accompanied by their daughter, Karen Takle, of Failand, and her husband. They were among the relatives of four of the seven airmen traced by locals and Mr Heys.
The people of La Vespière have never forgotten the brave crew's sacrifice and John has never forgotten his last sight of his cousin.
"I was about eight and he came to see us at Worle on his last leave," he recalls. "To boys of my age then, of course, aircrew members of the RAF were heroes. He had just been commissioned – before, when I had seen him, he had been a sergeant. To see him in his uniform was fantastic."
John now has other, very tangible, mementoes. The French presented him with pieces of shattered metal from the wreck of the Lancaster, but poignant though they are, it is the generous spirit of the Frenchmen and women, who also had cause to grieve, which will, he says, remain his strongest memory.