War graves smashed by ‘mindless’ yobs days before D-Day 75th anniversary

The gravestones of fallen British war heroes were smashed in a cemetery in the run-up to the 75th anniversary of D-Day in a sickening rampage described as "mindless" and "callous".

It is suspected the graves of soldiers who fought in the First and Second World Wars were deliberately to coincide with the anniversary, as nearby civilian plots were untouched.

The vandals have been branded a "disgrace" after the trail of destruction was discovered on Thursday as the world honoured those who fought in the largest combined land, air and naval operation in history.

Some of the damaged gravestones were specially provided to the Hirst Wood burial ground in Shipley, Bradford, by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

West Yorkshire Police believe the vandalism was carried out between 11am on Monday and Tuesday evening, with some locals discovering it on Thursday, the D-Day anniversary itself.

Horrified members of the local community have reacted with anger following the shocking discovery.

Among the graves damaged was that of  Second World war driver Arthur Sheard, who was buried with his four-year-old daughter, who died just two days after him.

Others include that of leading Aircraftman Frank Whittaker, James Grimshaw Crossley, who played a key role in training the Bradford Pals 1st Battalion, and Sgt Gunner Peter William Bilsborough.

Pauline Bradley-Sharp, secretary of Hirst Wood Regeneration Group, said: "Some people have got no respect for families' feelings.

"It hurts my heart to see this, it's a terrible thing to do. It's a disgrace.

"I haven't got anyone in the burial ground but we are all affected by this, and it must be horrible for the families who have got their heroes buried there.

"D-Day is a very important day for us all and it is just dreadful what they have done.

"If I could get hold of the people responsible I would give them a good smack round the ear."

Richard Coomber, who is also a member of the group, added: "It is disgusting; it's hard to think of suitable words to describe these people.

"On this day of all days, you have to presume this was deliberate timing."

Carole Ver, 75, from Nab Wood, walks her dog around the burial ground two or three times a week.

She said: "I'm really upset because I'd just been watching the commemoration of D-Day on the television and then I walk round to see that. It's appalling.

"It's the war graves that have been singled out – I would say at least seven or eight of them. They're the white ones and they've been smashed to pieces. It's devastating."

Posting about the incident via their Facebook page, the Hirst Wood Regeneration Group said: "Sad to report that a number of gravestones in Hirst Wood Cemetery have been smashed.

"It is mainly the Commonwealth War Grave Commission stones, including that of Arthur Sheard who was buried at the same time as his four year old daughter Hilda, who died two days after him."

The group added: "It is impossible to understand the callous thoughtlessness of those who did this.

"Do they boast to their friends and relations that they managed to smash gravestones?

"What possible satisfaction can they get from such a mindless act?"

One woman who walks through the graveyard regularly, but did not wish to be named, said the incident was "shocking".

She said: "It's just awful to consider the lack of thought that has gone into this damage.

"The fact that it happened so close to D-Day is what I think has shocked people the most.

"It just makes you despair, really."

Members of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission were at the site on Friday, along with police, to carry out repairs and install temporary nameplates.

One of the graves damaged belongs to Mr Sheard, from Saltaire, who died aged 30 on May 22, 1918, at Morton Banks Military Hospital in Keighley after being injured in the field.

He was buried with full military honours alongside his four-year-old daughter Hilda Sheard, who died the day after her father. Mr Sheard's headstone has been smashed into four pieces.

Another damaged grave belongs to Shipley resident James Grimshaw Crossley, who died in 1916, aged 61.

He had played a key role in the training of the Shipley Volunteer Corps and the Bradford Pals 1st Battalion following an extensive career in the mounted infantry.

Leading Aircraftman Frank Whittaker, who died on May 25, 1944, aged 40, is also buried at the site and his gravestone was smashed to pieces by vandals.

And the headstone commemorating Sgt Gunner Peter William Bilsborough, who died aged 21 on November 27, 1941, and was buried at sea, was pushed over.

Councillor Martin Love (Green, Shipley) said the damage was "beyond comprehension".

He said: "It's shocking any gravestones can be vandalised in this way, and it's particularly shocking they are war graves on a day like today.

"This is a totally unnecessary crime, it is quite sickening really.

"What on earth makes someone want to do that? It is beyond comprehension."

Detective Inspector Amanda Middleton, said: "Our investigation is ongoing into the vandalism of these gravestones.

"The gravestones were destroyed in what was a mindless act of destruction and I would urge anyone with any information to come forward and speak to the police.

"High visibility reassurance patrols have been stepped up in the area whilst officers continue with their enquiries."

West Yorkshire Police have said they are looking for witnesses.

Detective Inspector Amanda Middleton said: "The gravestones were destroyed in what was a mindless act of destruction and I would urge anyone with any information to come forward and speak to the police.

"High visibility reassurance patrols have been stepped up in the area whilst officers continue with their inquiries."

Anyone who witnessed this incident or has any information is asked to contact Bradford District Police via 101 quoting log number 952 of 6 June.

Information can also be passed to independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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