Marker plan to protect Borders war memorials

Alex McCue of the war Memorial Trust at the 'Wee Man' memorial in Walkerburn.
Alex McCue of the war Memorial Trust at the 'Wee Man' memorial in Walkerburn.

WAR memorials across the Borders could be marked with an invisible dye in a bid to protect them from callous thieves.

As the nation prepares to remember its fallen heroes, metal thieves are ripping commemorative plaques from monuments to be sold for cash.

The soaring price of scrap metal is responsible for a surge metal thefts that is also hitting railway signalling and power supplies.

The theft of plaques bearing the names of military personnel who perished in two world wars has caused outrage. Raids south of the border have included Carshalton in London and the garrison town of Tidworth in Wiltshire.

So far, Scotland seems to have escaped. But the thefts have re-kindled memories of November 1998 when the statue of a soldier with bowed head and upturned rifle was stolen from the memorial at Walkerburn. Villagers were furious. The statue was found, apparently the victim of a sick prank, at Edinburgh Airport in February 2000. By that time, a replacement had been erected but the original was given a new home in the village.

The War Memorial Trust reckons one of the UK’s 100,000-plus memorials is targeted every week.

The trust’s local volunteer, Alex McCue, told TheSouthern: “The war memorials in our area offer an important insight into our military and social history. A theft from a war memorial is an attack on the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

With the anniversary of the start of the First World War due in three years, the War Memorials Trust has launched its In Memoriam 2014 project.

It is being backed by the SmartWater Foundation, the charitable arm of SmartWater Technology. The company is making available a state-of-the-art liquid that contains a unique chemical code and is only visible under ultraviolet light.

Once applied to a war memorial, the liquid is virtually impossible to remove and can withstand burning or melting, making it harder for criminals to dispose of stolen war memorials.

Police are searching for traces of SmartWater as a means of identifying stolen property and linking criminals to specific crime scenes. More and more scrap metal dealers are also checking and refusing to handle items marked with the liquid.

Sutton Council, which is responsible for Carshalton, has agreed that all its memorials will be forensically marked after 14 brass plaques commemorating the war dead were stolen.

Sir Keith Povey, SmartWater Foundation chairman, said “As the centenary of World War I approaches, In Memoriam 2014 encourages communities to reconnect with their local war memorials. The foundation’s main role will be to offer greater protection for war memorials offering SmartWater, free of charge.”

Mr McCue said: “I welcome the In Memoriam 2014 project and its aim to protect war memorials with this marker.”

Police in the Borders pulled over 45 lorries and visited three scrap yards in a recent national clampdown. Their were no seizures or arrests but police say it was an intelligence-gathering and awareness-raising exercise which achieved its purpose.

Inspector Brian MacFarlane said: “The disruption caused by these thieves must not be underestimated – whether through lampposts not working, widespread loss of power, telephone or internet connection.

“Added to that are the risks to public safety caused by tampering with electricity and exposing cabling, the theft of manhole covers and the economic impact of repairs to businesses and organisations.”