An act of vandalism did not deter hundreds of Harefield residents from paying tribute to fallen soldiers on ANZAC Day.
The vandals sawed an Australian flagpole and peppered a memorial and information panel with blue paint just a day before hundreds paid tribute to fallen soldiers.
A service was held at Harefield (St Mary’s) Churchyard, Church Hill, where the bodies of more than 100 Australian soldiers killed in the First World War are interred.
The burial site hosted a special ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day service on Saturday afternoon (April 25), marking the centenary of the start of the Gallipoli Campaign, in which more than 11,000 soldiers from Australia and New Zealand were killed.
The cemetery is the UK’s primary place of remembrance for Australian First World War casualties and has hosted an annual ANZAC Day service, at which local schoolchildren lay flowers on every grave, since 1921.
Councillor Jane Palmer, who represents Harefield ward, saw little evidence of the vandalism and had nothing but praise for the village.
She said: “The ANZAC commemorations were superbly planned and a fitting tribute to the people who lost their lives. Every year it takes my breath away.”
“The vandalism didn’t stop Harefield residents turning out in their hundreds. The village was phenomenal and there were not enough spaces in the church to seat all that came to pay their respects.”
Representatives of the Australian and New Zealand governments and military were in Harefield for the ANZAC Day Service.
Around 270 children and staff members took part this year in the tradition of laying flowers in preparation for the ANZAC Day Service, that has so far lasted 97 years.
Mrs Bernadette Lloyd, headteacher at Harefield Infants, said: “The children remember the ANZAC soldiers every year by laying flowers on the graves, so that when the ceremony comes all can see that the soldiers have been thought about. We’ve been contacted by family members in Australia who thank us for what we do.”
Children from Harefield Junior School performed a concert The ANZACs and Us, which received a standing ovation.
On Thursday (April 23), the Mayor and Mayoress of Hillingdon opened an ANZAC Peace Garden ahead of the commemorations.
Mr Paul Dodd, headteacher at Harefield Junior School, said: "This will be a lasting tribute to the ANZACs and will help to ensure future generations never forget them."
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which maintains the site, condemned the vandals but worked hard to ensure the damage was repaired in time.
“The vandalism is very upsetting for the Commission, after all the work [to restore the graves] that has taken place over the last three months,” said a spokesman for the commission.
Barney Cullum, CWGC Media Officer, said: “The service went ahead followed the immediate mobilisation of CWGC and Church staff on Friday, who acted swiftly and brilliantly to overcome the pre-event vandalism at the site.”
Jean Palmer, deputy chief executive of Hillingdon Council and Corporate Director of Residents Services, commended the village’s efforts: “Harefield is proud of its association with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and the wonderful range of events that took place in the village to mark ANZAC Day were welcomed by the local community as well as relatives of ANZAC soldiers who fought in WWI and were brought to Harefield for hospital treatment.
"It was a positive occasion and the vandals who attempted to spoil the day did not succeed.”