A decision to cover the headstones of soldiers in paint just before Anzac Day has angered visitors to Bromley Cemetery in Christchurch.
Many of those who visited the cemetery to pay their respects yesterday feared vandals had desecrated the site, with black and white paint obscuring the inscriptions on more than 150 of the headstones.
However, the Christchurch City Council said the paint was part of renovation work believed to have started on Thursday on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
"Whoever did this should be horse-whipped," said a 78-year-old relative of a veteran of both world wars buried in the cemetery. "It's a disgrace."
However, a council spokeswoman said council staff had seen the contractor for the War Graves Commission at the cemetery on Thursday.
It was thought the paint was used to help redefine lettering on the headstones. The inscriptions are painted over before the paint is removed, leaving the engraving clearer.
War veterans' headstones in cemeteries are the responsibility of the commission.
"The council deals with grass and the area around the graves," the spokeswoman said. "The headstones are maintained by the War Graves Commission.
"That's primarily their prerogative," she said.
The president of the Christchurch branch of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association (RSA), John Suttie, said yesterday that the paint was a "bloody mess".
"I went down there myself and counted 162 with paint on. It's a hell of a bloody mess.
"There is spray paint over the names on some of them, and on others they have used thick gloss paint.
"I find it funny that they have done it right now.
"There were a lot of people down there complaining.
"In terms of timing, it is bloody terrible."
Kate Boskell, of Bromley, said she went to the cemetery every year on Anzac Day with her two sons, Troy Maddock, 16, and Dane Patrick, 13.
"We come here and bring poppies. It's our opportunity to show our respects," she said.
Boskell said she was shocked the work had not been finished in time for Anzac Day.
"You would think they would have had them done by Anzac Day."
One Woolston man said his 88-year-old mother had been upset when they went to visit the grave of his grandfather, who had served in Egypt in the Rifle Brigade.
"It's a bit of a shock. I was pretty bloody brassed off," the 62-year-old said.
No-one from the War Graves Commission could be contacted for comment.
- The Press
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