AS IF visiting the grave of a young friend and war hero on Remembrance Sunday is not upsetting enough, a Knaphill couple were shocked by the devastating scene that greeted them at a local cemetery.
Eric Padmore, who was a sergeant in the Welsh Guards, and his wife Lyn, went to Brookwood to pay their respects at the grave of Eric’s
pal Lance Corporal Chris ‘Bowser’ Charles Thomas, who was killed during the Falklands War 30 years ago – at the age of just 22.
But on arrival the couple were confronted by ugly orange plastic fencing strewn across the access to graves, huge rounds of turf blocking the pathway, and there was mud everywhere, even around graves where there should have been grass.
Worse still, a pile of plywood had been left on one grave and a huge rubbish sack dumped on top of two of the many Battle of Britain pilots buried there.
Lyn said: “We were totally appalled. It’s horrifying and so deeply disrespectful to leave the place in such a state, knowing that on the one day of the year – Remembrance Sunday – the largest number of friends and relatives will come through Brookwood’s gates to visit the many graves of those lost at war.”
Eric said: “I felt sick to my stomach. In fact I was so upset, I couldn’t even stay there long enough to wait for the two-minute silence.”
Lyn added: “Some relatives travel miles to be here, close to their lost ones for this day.
“In fact Chris’ mother Paula, who’s nearly 80 and lives in Poole, Dorset, wasn’t strong enough to make the journey but she always visits with one of her daughters on the anniversary of his death in June.
“I dread to think how Paula would have reacted. One visitor just cried when she saw the state of the graveyard.
“It’s just not on. We’ve been on to the War Graves Commission, those responsible for the upkeep, but they haven’t done anything about it.
“I’m still writing to them now. I just don’t know what else we can do.”
Lance Corporal Thomas was killed when the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Sir Galahad was bombed by Argentine forces.
Eric said: “Chris and I were on a motorbike on the battleground near the blazing ship when an artillery shell hit us. He went one way and I went the other.
“I was with Chris when he died on June 13, 1982, the day before the Argentinians surrendered.”
The Sir Galahad was later towed out to sea and sunk off the Falklands as a war grave for 41 men from the Welsh Guards who lost their lives.
Eric added: “Chris was the last serviceman to be killed in the Falklands and the only body of the Welsh Guards to be brought home and given a grave.”
“There’s no excuse. It’s the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War and relations of those who couldn’t be brought home often visit Chris’ grave as a focal point to leave remembrance crosses with the name of their lost love one on.
“If you compare this travesty to the pristine condition the US Commission keep their respected war graves in at the same cemetery, it’s shameful.”
Matt Morris, from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: “We deeply regret it if any visitor to our cemeteries or memorials finds their condition falling short of the high standards we set ourselves.
“The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for the commemoration of 1.7 million servicemen and women. We care for their graves and memorials at 23,000 locations, in 153 countries – a process that requires constant maintenance.
“A major project of horticultural renovation is underway in the RAF plot at Brookwood Military Cemetery. It started in September and our staff have been working hard to complete the project on schedule – a task not aided by a period of sustained wet weather.
“It is not possible to place all such projects – which are essential – on hold at the time of Remembrance.”