Callous vandals are targeting dead war veterans by ripping the bronze plaques from their headstones.
Cemeteries from Thames to South Waikato have fallen victim to thieves looking for a cheap buck in scrap metal with bronze trimming from 16 plaques at Hamilton Park Cemetery stolen in the weeks leading up to Anzac Day.
And just this week, a Ngatea woman visited the grave of her father, a World War II veteran, to find his bronze plaque had been hacked from where it had lain for 26 years.
Raymond Bedford’s daughter, Judy Fleming, said she was very upset when she found out his plaque was stolen from Omahu Cemetery on the eve of Anzac and only two weeks from the anniversary of her mother’s passing. A ceramic bowl for cut flowers had also been smashed and the entire headstone was loosened from its base.
“Dad was only 66 when he passed away and mum lived into her 90s so they were buried together. I am glad they couldn’t remove her plaque, even though they tried, that would have been just terrible,” she said.
Bedford’s great grandson, Josh Fleming, said he was upset for his grandmother.
“It has made this time of year even harder for her so near the anniversary of my great grandmother’s death,” he said.
Judy Fleming said the cemetery was such a lovely place to visit and having her father’s headstone vandalised would have ongoing effects.
“I will think twice before I come out here on my own now as it is spooky to know there have been people up to no good here,” she said.
A spokesperson for Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand was outraged at the news that plaques had been vandalised.
“Theft of the plaques is not just a crime, to be dealt with by the police – it is deplorable behaviour, and an insult to the memory of the servicemen involved.”
Chris Fraser, whose business Peninsula Memorials installs RSA plaques for Veterans’ Affairs, said the thefts were “disgusting”.
He said although he was reluctant to speculate what the thieves would want with the stolen loot, he did say if they were selling the plaques, “they wouldn’t get much for it at all, nowhere near what’s it’s worth.”
Thames-Coromandel District Council spokesperson, Laurna White, said council were only aware of the theft from Omahu Cemetery after media contact on Wednesday.
She said staff are now investigating the cemetery site to assess the damage and urged people to let council know if there were thefts or vandalism to council facilities. A bronze plaque was also taken from the back of a bench seat.
White said the cost of an RSA bronze plaque would be around $600 and for non-RSA members a similar plaque would be around $1000. The value of the metal as scrap is only a few dollars a kilogram.
Hamilton City Council’s cemeteries manager Michelle Rivers, said the 16 bronze plaques stolen from Hamilton Park Cemetery were in the area reserved for RSA members.
“We informed the RSA directly, and also made immediate contact with the families of the servicemen whose names were on the stolen plaques,” she said. “This was a particularly disgusting theft as it occurred in the weeks leading up to Anzac Day.
“Several other bronze fittings were also stolen at the same time, and the theft was reported to police. We are in discussions with the RSA and the Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand office regarding replacing these items and what the costs will be.”
Hamilton RSA president Len Knapp said he understood the bronze trimmings were stolen from a wall which lists the names of those who served in the war.
“They were bolted down pretty well so it would have taken a bit of an effort,” Knapp said. “I don’t understand why these people would want to take something so sacred.”
South Waikato District Council, said they had one report of a memorial that had disappeared and was presumed stolen.
A police spokesperson from the media centre in Wellington, said police were aware of the thefts and were continuing to make inquiries. The RSA national office referred inquiries to the office of Veterans’ Affairs.