Police in the U.K. are looking for vandals suspected of smashing several headstones at a cemetery for First and Second World War soldiers, just a few days before the world marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
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The incident happened sometime late Monday or early Tuesday at the Hirst Wood Burial Ground in West Yorkshire, approximately 340 kilometres north of London, according to police.
The vandals toppled or smashed gravestones on six of the cemetery’s war graves, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. A spokesperson said the commission is “incredibly disheartened” by the incident.
“We are deeply upset that someone has shown such a complete lack of respect on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a day when so many tens of thousands assembled around the world to reflect and pay deserved respect to the war dead,” the spokesperson told The Guardian.
“This is thoughtless vandalism.”
The commission plans to clear away the debris and set up temporary markers until new headstones can be created.
One of the damaged graves belongs to Arthur Sheard, a driver with the Royal Field Artillery during the First World War, according to the Hirst Wood Regeneration Group that manages the cemetery.
Sheard died of a gunshot wound at a British military hospital in May 1918. His four-year-old daughter, Hilda, died two days later, according to his biography on the Hirst Wood website.
Father and daughter were buried together at the cemetery in 1918.
Several war widows and soldiers’ children are also buried with fallen soldiers at the site.
“It is impossible to understand the callous thoughtlessness of those who did this,” Hirst Wood Regeneration Group wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday.
A spokesperson for West Yorkshire police says officers have stepped up patrols in the area while they investigate the case.
“The gravestones were destroyed in what was a mindless act of destruction,” Det. Insp. Amanda Middleton said in a statement.
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Local resident Lynda Gibson, who came across the damage while walking her dog earlier this week, said she was distressed that the incident took place so close to D-Day.
“So disrespectful of these brave heroes,” she wrote in a post on Facebook, which included several photos of the damage.
“I despair, I really do.”
An estimated 40 million people died in World War I and 56 million in World War II.
At least 4,000 Allied soldiers died in the Normandy invasion on D-Day.