A pensioner has described how he cried and was left “heartbroken” after flags and poppies were targeted by vandals at the memorial he tends to the crew of a crashed American bomber, as thousands gathered to enjoy the sun.
Tony Foulds, 84, said American flags were ripped down and torn while remembrance poppies were pulled out of flower pots in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, on Tuesday.
The park was packed with thousands of people on Tuesday and Wednesday, causing widespread concern over Covid-19 risks and the seven tonnes of rubbish Sheffield City Council said it cleared up on Wednesday.
Mr Foulds hit the headlines in 2019 when the story of how the B-17 Flying Fortress Mi Amigo crashed in front of him on February 22, 1944, killing the 10 crewmen, eventually led to a flypast in the park, with 12,000 gathering to watch.
He told the PA news agency that he arrived on Wednesday morning and first spotted the biggest American flag at the memorial, that he tends most days, had been ripped down.
“All the flags had been taken down, placed on the floor and been ripped to make sure I couldn’t put them back,” he said.
“I can’t understand why they would touch a memorial.
“This is beyond me. I would never have dreamt of it when I was young.
“They purposely left them torn.”
Mr Foulds said: “When the police came round I was crying. I was heartbroken.”
He said he was reluctant to blame drunk youngsters who had gathered on the huge grass field opposite the memorial, saying: “I can only assume it was political.”
He said he has had hundreds of messages and offers of cash to replace the damaged items. He said the council has received thousands of further messages of support.
Mr Foulds was on the same grassed area with friends 77 years ago as the stricken Mi Amigo approached the park, and he believes the crew crashed into a small slope in order to avoid him and his friends.
The story of how he has devoted himself to their memory went around the world, after a chance encounter with BBC broadcaster Dan Walker, who was walking his dog past the memorial.
In February 2019 Mr Foulds was the guest of honour at the flypast in Endcliffe Park to mark the 75th anniversary of the tragedy.
He broke down in tears after the names of the dead men were read out at the salute.
Mr Foulds said on Thursday: “These (airmen) died fighting for us. I wouldn’t have been here, that’s a cert, I would have been dead if they had tried to land on there.
“Surely they know what the Americans did for us during the war?”
Superintendent Simon Verrall, from South Yorkshire Police, said on Wednesday: “Throughout the afternoon and evening, officers were required to respond to a number of reports of anti-social behaviour and damage being caused to the park.
“A 17-year-old boy was also arrested on suspicion of affray, following a fight between a group of people.
“Our colleagues at the fire service were also required to attend, after reports of several small fires being started within the park boundaries.
“Sadly, one of the park’s memorials was also damaged during the evening, which has left volunteers deeply distressed.
“This activity is not acceptable and will not be tolerated in our open spaces, which have been a haven for so many people during the pandemic.”
Mr Verrall continued: “We are currently reviewing CCTV and mobile phone footage to identify those involved with a view to taking further action.”