Vandalised war graves in Shipley to be given new headstones

Six World War One and Two soldiers' graves that were vandalised in a Shipley cemetery are to be restored thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The damaged headstones

The CWGC has funded the replacement headstones after they were destroyed by heartless yobs three weeks ago in Shipley.The charity's stonemasons in France engraved the new stones at a production site in Beaurains and they were then taken to the Hirst Wood burial ground.

One of the desecrated graves belonged to Sergeant Peter Bilsborough, whose niece and nephew were invited to meet the team who restored his headstone.

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They will be maintained in future by the CWGC.

Andy Stillman from CWGC said:-

“When these war graves were smashed by vandals they weren’t just destroying a piece of stone - they were showing complete disrespect for the people buried there and what they did for their country.

“Each CWGC headstone represents the life of someone we have promised to never forget. Though we were appalled to learn about the damage that took place in Shipley we are pleased to have been able to right this wrong so quickly.

Niece of Shipley war hero disgusted by damage to his grave“The huge outpouring of support we received in the wake of this senseless act has proved just how much the public continues to value the memory of the men and women of the wartime generations.

“It was an honour for our staff to meet the relatives of Sergeant Bilsborough, one of those whose graves was sadly desecrated, to show that we here at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will never forget these men.”

Julie Watson, niece of Sgt Bilsborough, said:

“I was horrified to see what had been done to my uncle’s grave and to think that someone would destroy the headstone of someone who died in the war. But through all that negativity I’ve been so impressed by the professionalism and respect which everyone has shown in trying to fix this, including the police for investigating and the press for their careful coverage. I’m grateful to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for acting with care and so quickly to restore my uncle’s grave and give us as a family somewhere to continue to pay our respects.”

Her uncle was an RAF reservist who served as a bomb aimer, and was just 21 when he was killed as the Wellington bomber he was flying in suffered engine failure and he was forced to ditch, tragically drowning at sea.

The other five resting places were that of Leading Aircraftman Frank Whittaker, Captain A Crossley, Gunner Henry Hardy, Driver Arthur Sheard and Sapper J Stephenson.

One of the targeted graves was that of Arthur Sheard, a WWI driver from Saltaire who died in May 1918 at Morton Banks Military Hospital in Keighley. Mr Hirst's four-year-old daughter Hilda died the next day of an illness and the two were buried together at the plot at Hirst Wood.

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."