Last week I had the opportunity to introduce a Desecration of War Memorials Bill. The aim of this Bill is to toughen up sentencing for those who desecrate war memorials to properly reflect the seriousness of the crime they commit.
With the death of Harry Patch, the last human thread connecting us to the Great War generation may have been cut – but that makes it all the more important to protect the physical thread which connects us to Harry Patch’s generation and subsequent war veterans in the form of memorials.
My interest in this issue was sadly prompted by an appalling act of theft and criminal damage to the Southgate memorial in Broomfield Park in my constituency last August. Two six-foot-by-four-foot bronze plaques and nine smaller plates bearing the names of soldiers who died in the two world wars, alongside civilians from Southgate who were killed in the Blitz, were ripped out. We were outraged at this despicable act.
The incident is by no means unique and my research has revealed that there have been 57 reports in regional and national press in the last year of desecration of War Memorials involving vandalism, theft and even public urination or defecation. This averages out to at least one War Memorial being desecrated every week. In fact the lack of any specific reporting of these types of offences means the number of desecrations is probably much higher.
What particularly troubled me about the desecration in my constituency was that the bronze plaques were practically irreplaceable. We didn’t have any records of the names that were inscribed and so when these plaques were stolen there was a good chance that the names, and the memory, of those soldiers could have been lost forever.
It sickens me to think of those plates being melted down for scrap and those names being consigned to oblivion. Thankfully, a local man, who had taken extensive photographs of the memorial a few years ago, came forward. Together with the good work of the National Inventory of War Memorials we are now able to replace the plaques. Other communities are not so lucky with many memorials not properly registered and recorded.
The War Memorials Trust together with the National Inventory based at the Imperial War Museum are doing a sterling job to encourage registration of memorials but only 55,000 have so far been registered. Can I set a challenge in the coming weeks, as many of you pound the streets in the coming weeks and visit community buildings? As well as keeping an eye out for floating voters, look out for unregistered war memorials too!