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French village’s tribute to doomed WWII crew

Token of respect: A wreath is laid at the service in St Sever PICTURES: PA

FRENCH villagers have clubbed together to put up a memorial to the crew of a British World War II bomber that crashed in their main street.

The Wellington T2897 from 149 Squadron went down in flames in the centre of St Sever Calvados because of engine trouble caused by flak. It was returning to RAF Mildenhall after a mission to destroy a Luftwaffe airfield in Bordeaux on Easter Sunday, 1941.

Lest we forget: The memorial to the bomber crew

A fireball from the aircraft killed nine people in the Normandy village — including a 15-month-old infant — and five of the six crew, aged between 21 and 23.

At Saturday’s unveiling ceremony, children sang songs, including the White Cliffs of Dover, and relatives of the crew read tributes. A message from 101-year-old Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces’ Sweetheart, was read out, in which she said: ‘So many brave men fought for our freedom. It is important we never take their sacrifice for granted and events like this ensure we do not.’

Surviving crew member, Gunner Sgt Kenneth Rawlings, was ordered to bail out and light a flare in a field in a bid to steer the plane away from the village. But he was given up by a farmer — who was later killed by the French resistance — and held in a POW camp.

Witness Mme Bourgeois later recounted: ‘I still see the street on fire, the fire brigade coming from several towns around and also the chain of townspeople passing buckets of water.’

Mayor Jean-Pierre Nourry said the memorial was ‘a token of our respect and appreciation’.