Pilfered WWI Memorial Plaques Replaced at Sanderstead’s Graveyard

Pilfered WWI Memorial Plaques Replaced at Sanderstead’s GraveyardAll Saints council chairman Piers Hubbard spearheaded the fundraising drive to restore the copper plaques stolen from the WWI memorial at Sanderstead’s graveyard.

Back in 2011, two memorial plaques dedicated to more than 80 World War I veterans were stolen from Sanderstead’s graveyard. Although the originals were never recovered, the plaques have been replaced and again stand as a proud tribute to the veterans of the terrible conflict once idealistically referred to as “the war to end all wars.”

The copper plaques were stolen from the graveyard by thieves who, presumably, sold them to be melted down for reuse of the metal in another capacity. While not as expensive as gold or platinum, copper (Cu on the periodic table) is a valuable ductile metal used in many applications. While popularly known for its use in electronics wiring and electroplating, due to its being biostatic (meaning that bacteria cannot grow on it), copper is used to prevent barnacle and mussel growth on the hulls of ships and as an anti-biofouling agent on aquaculture netting. It is also an essential trace element crucial to the well-being of all forms of life, from microorganisms to human beings. Besides such practical functions, since antiquity copper has been used to make plaques and other decorative architectural elements because of the beautiful and hardy oxide-sulfate patina that forms on the metal when left exposed to the elements.

Pilfered WWI Memorial Plaques Replaced at Sanderstead’s Graveyard 2More than just a pretty face: The oxide-sulfate patina that forms on copper when it is left exposed to the elements is extremely durable, making the metal ideal for use in roofs, gutters, and plaques such as those stolen from Sanderstead’s graveyard.

Following the theft of the plaques in 2011, All Saints Church began working with charities and the local residents’ association to raise money to pay for replacements. All Saints council chairman Piers Hubbard said that at first it wasn’t clear who was responsible for organising to get the new plates, however, Mr Hubbard ended up spearheading the fundraising drive. In addition to seeking donations from local residents, All Saints applied for various grants and was assisted by the War Memorial Trust.

Ultimately, the fundraising effort netted £7,000, which was used to have the plaques remade and rededicated at Sanderstead’s graveyard. Sanderstead Residents Association’s Michael Leach said that, although he didn’t know of any persons who were relations of the memorial’s honorees, his group had donated £2,000 to the cause. “A lot of parishioners came to the service and were very happy to see [the memorials] back,” Mr. Leach remarked.

According to Mr. Hubbard, the memorial plaques weren’t the only cherished items taken from Sanderstead’s graveyard. Several plaques belonging to individual families had also been stolen. Their absence left notable holes in the graveyard, the Croydon Advertiser reports.

“They were stolen with no thought for who it may affect,” he said.

Appalled by the pillaging of the graveyard, Croydon South MP Richard Ottoway led the push for a private bill in parliament to address the metal thievery and target those who would steal war memorials. Now law, Mr Ottoway’s Scrap Metal Dealers Bill operates to track sales of scrap metal to ensure the legality of all trades. Mr Ottoway said that metal thieves had been stealing from public utilities for years, bilking taxpayers of enormous sums – hundreds of millions of pounds.

“Even worse, thieves preyed on our national treasures – our churches, our loved ones’ graves and our war memorials.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE