"Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst.”

                                                                                                                              Prime Minister David Lloyd George

FRANK JAMES STEER

James (Frank) Steer (known as Frank - it appears he used his middle name as his first name) appears at the bottom of Riverhead Memorial as "F Steer  1916".  As he was killed in action on 1 October 1916 he is the only soldier to appear on the Memorial out of chronological sequence.  A photograph of him appears to the left.

 

He was born in Riverhead on 29th March 1896 and was the son of James and Gertrude Elizabeth Steer.  He had three sisters; Grace Gertrude, Elizabeth May and Edith Daisy.  All four children were baptised at St Mary's Church and they lived on the London Road.

 

However, at some stage after the youngest child (Edith Daisy) was baptised on 8th October 1904 (12 years to the day before her Brother's death on 8th October 1916) the family emigrated to Canada.  Frank quit his job as a clerk and returned to England with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, having enlisted in May 1915.  The clipping from a local paper reveals that there was a farewell party before he left for England.

 

He was to die on 8th October 1916 during a well documented assault on a German earthwork - known as Regina Trench or "The Ditch of Evil Memory".  His division would suffer 770 casualties out of the 1100 men involved in the assault.  It appears from the following paper clipping that, at first, no trace could be found of him.  Clearly, however, his body was later found as is revealed by the commentary under his photograph.  The newspaper clipping below right reveals that his Father had also come to Europe to fight.

His body was originally buried 3/4 miles N of Courcelette and 5/3/4 miles NEast of Albert.  It was later exhumed (probably in the battlefield clearances of the 1920s) and reburied at Regina Trench Cemetery.

 

It is possible that his position at the foot of the memorial arises from the fact he had left the village some years before the War and was added, perhaps at the request of his family, after the memorial had been produced.  He was the last Riverhead soldier to die in the Somme offensive of 1916 which ended on 18th November 1916 with the onset of Winter.  As the link records - when the Canadian Corps was relieved, its casualties during the Battle of the Somme were 24,029 men, roughly 24% of its force.

 

The Roll of Honour in St Mary's Church shows him as having the rank of Corporal but the CWGC page records him as having the rank of Private.

 

 

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