Vandals steal rifle from Sarnia war memorial

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A vandal decided to disarm a Sarnia war memorial, prying a copper rifle from the statue of a soldier that has stood atop the border city’s cenotaph  for nearly a century.

The rifle was removed from the back of the statue, which depicts a Canadian “Tommy,” a soldier in full uniform from the First World War, police said Wednesday.

It was taken some time before members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 62 and Sarnia Historical Society met in the park April 3 for a cheque presentation, historical society president Ron Realesmith said.

“It was extremely disappointing and very disheartening to see that,” said legion branch spokesperson Les Jones about damage to the memorial. “No doubt (legion members) are going to be extremely upset when they hear about it.”

News of the damage to the statue comes days after another regional war monument, the Holy Roller Sherman tank in London’s Victoria Park, was defaced with graffiti.

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“I don’t know what’s going on to generate this kind of action, to use polite words,” said Sarnia police Const. Giovanni Sottosanti, noting damaging the cenotaph memorial is like vandalizing gravestones in a cemetery. “You have these veterans that have given their lives to protect their country, for freedom and all the good that we have here, and then this stuff happens. … It affects a lot of people.”

Police hope the person or people responsible are caught and the rifle returned, he said.

In case that doesn’t happen, the historical society and legion branch have already begun a fundraiser to replace the rifle, said Realesmith, estimating the cost at $3,000 to $7,000.

“We’re deeply saddened that this has occurred,” he said, calling the vandalism a “senseless act.”

Anyone who wants to donate can contact him at 519-328-5009 or ron@sarniahistoricalsociety.com, he added.

The cenotaph was first erected in 1921 and rededicated a year later – Nov. 11, 1922 – after the “Tommy” statue sculpted by J.G. Tickle of Toronto was added, according to the historical society.

More stone and names were added to the cenotaph and it was rededicated again in 1955. More names have been added since.

Veterans Park was previously known as Wellington Square and then Victoria Park before it was renamed again in 1998.

Police were notified about the vandalism around noon on Tuesday, Sottosanti said.

The vandalism was reported to Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, who passed the information along to city staff Saturday, the mayor confirmed.

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Realesmith said it slipped his mind to mention the vandalism to police sooner.

“Veterans park is hallowed ground,” Bradley tweeted. “For 99 years the Tommy soldier has stood guard in memory of the fallen.”

The culprits should be made to stand guard in the park for a week, the mayor said.

The statue rests atop a granite block on a granite foundation several feet in the air.

There was no visible damage to the rest of the statue or the cenotaph Wednesday, but it appeared the bolts at the base of the statue had also been loosened, Sottosanti said.

Police, though, couldn’t confirm if that was something the vandals did, he said.

Police plan to obtain video from the nearby Sarnia Public Library branch to pinpoint how and when the statue piece was taken, he said.

“If there’s anybody that does have video in the area that might assist, that would be much appreciated.”

Anyone with tips about the vandalism or the rifle’s whereabouts is asked to contact Det. Const. Jeff Rovers at 519-344-8861 ext. 6159, or Sarnia Lambton Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

With files from Paul Morden

tkula@postmedia.com

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