The memorial to the war dead of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe has been vandalised – with someone appearing to have set fire to it in the early hours of Tuesday morning (August 24).
The West Lane monument, which commemorates the sacrifice of local people in both world wars, was unveiled in 1921 and is Grade II-listed. Police said they are open-minded about the motivation for the crime and that there is nothing at this stage to indicate any element of racial or cultural motivation.
The shocking act of vandalism has been reported to Southwark Council by local residents and was cleaned the same day by council workers.
Local MP Neil Coyle said he had seen CCTV footage of the incident. The footage appears to show a lone, slim male, in a high vis jacket, he said. He is in no doubt that it was a premeditated attack. The images, however, do not capture the suspect’s face.
The Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP appealed for any residents in the area to check their own doorbell cameras and any drivers in the area at the time the memorial was targeted to look at their dashcam footage.
Coyle said the council had already done a good job of cleaning up the damaged monument. “The vast and overwhelming majority of local people living here condemn this attacker and recognise the heroism and commitment that the monument marks,” he said. “We are proud of our armed forces’ contribution in every conflict.”
The vandalism has caused widespread outrage, but local historian Gary Magold, who organises memorial services at the monument every year, called for calm.
“It gets cleaned up and we carry on as normal,” he said. “Whoever’s vandalised it has done what they’ve done – but they haven’t won. The irony is that the people that the memorial represents gave them the liberty to do that, they gave this particular individual the freedom to go about the country defacing things.
“It annoys people, but at the end of the day we’ll carry on. We’ll have our service on Remembrance Sunday. That’s something they can’t take away from us.
“The people of Bermondsey are very good. They’ll come along and lay their tributes and take part like they’ve done since 1921. I’m really just very sorry for whoever’s done this. I’m not sure what peace and comfort it will bring them.”
Gary said he believed it was the first time the war memorial has been vandalised in its 100-year history.
“Back in 1921, [Peek Freans owner] Arthur Carr, one of the big movers and shakers in getting the monument put up, said to all the assembled people that it’s down to you and protect it and make sure that it’s not desecrated.
“It’s interesting because even then there was the worry about vandalism. But you had people who were angry and upset that they’d lost their uncles, cousins, brothers, sons.”
“It’s such a shame that somebody has decided to do that. If it’s done for a specific reason, you aren’t gonna get your cause furthered by doing that, you’re only going to anger people.”
Local people were defiant in the face of the vandalism, with members of the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Poppy Appeal laying poppies at the memorial on Tuesday evening, and others also laying flowers.
Dozens of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe residents gathered for two minutes’ silence at the West Lane war memorial on Wednesday evening, after the shocking vandalism incident earlier this week.
Local people laid wreaths at the war memorial and vowed “not to let them win,” referring to the person or people who set fire to the memorial in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The event was organised by Jill Merrett, who runs the local poppy appeal, and her deputies Geraldine Howard and Ken Higgins.
A spokesperson for the police said: “On Tuesday, 24 August, police were notified by the London Fire Brigade of a fire they had extinguished at a memorial on West Lane, Bermondsey.
“At this stage, the fire is being treated as suspicious and enquiries remain ongoing. No arrests have been made.”
Cllr Darren Merrill, the council’s cabinet member for Safer, Cleaner Borough, said: ‘’This is a mindless criminal act that we will not tolerate, We have reported this to the police and offered our help in the investigation. I wish to thank our staff who acted so promptly to clean the memorial and the public for their help.’’