Anxious wait for Norfolk families after graves vandalised in Libya

Six Norfolk families face an anxious wait to hear if their war hero relatives are among those whose graves were vandalised by militant Islamists in Libya.

A video showed the men, some of whom covered their faces, kick and smash headstones and a desecrate a cross of remembrance, erected in Benghazi after World War II, on February 24 and 26.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission contractors are surveying the damage to identify the more than 200 graves attacked, and the organisation, which tends more than one million graves in 153 countries, said it may notify families of those affected before releasing their names.

Fakenham resident Gunner Ernest Keeley, who was 22 when he died on New Year's Day 1942, is buried in the Benghazi War Cemetery.

John Whiteside, vice chairman of the Fakenham and District Royal British Legion, said he would contact people in the town who may be related to him.

He said: 'It's totally abhorent. I don't know why people need to do something like that.

'I suppose you get fanatics in every race and creed, but to do something like that I just don't understand.

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'Particularly after we helped them to get rid of their tyrant, to turn around and do that, I think it's absolutely disgraceful.'

Gunner Keeley, Gunner George Barrell, 24, from Shipdham, and Gunner Alec Pallant, 23, from Gayton Thorpe, all served with the Royal Artillery 65 (The Norfolk Yeomanry) Anti Tank Regiment.

Lance Corporal Anthony Easten, 20, from East Wretham, and Second Lieutenant John Wilson, 20, from Neatishead, were killed in January 1942, while Gunner Bernard Green, 22, from Hanworth, died in August the following year.

Officials from the British Embassy in Tripoli visited the cemeteries immediately, and raised their concerns with the transitional government, which condemned the attacks as 'unethical, irresponsible and criminal'.

A war graves commission spokesman said the organisation would put temporary markers on the desecrated graves as soon as it was safe to do so, and pledged it would fully restore the cemeteries.

He said: 'We deeply regret it, but it does not deflect us from our core purpose, which is to commemorate the fallen.'

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