Vandals have desecrated Morpeth War Memorial just weeks before Remembrance Sunday.
Various names have been scratched on to all four panels of the monument, damaging the surface of the plaques.
The shocking crime comes during the centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War and just three weeks before Armistice Day on November 11 and Remembrance Sunday on November 9, when a solemn ceremony involving veterans, members of the Armed Forces, civic leaders and cadets will be held at the monument.
Morpeth town councillor David Clark, who often checks the memorial, discovered the damage at the weekend.
“Last year when I was walking around the war memorial, I noticed there were a couple of names scratched on one of the panels, but this year they have scratched all four.
“I can’t get my head around why anybody would do such a thing. It is akin to desecrating a grave,” he said. “I think these people are despicable, without any moral compass whatsoever.
“We have all been kids and scratched our names on something or other, but to do it to a war memorial is disgusting. Everyone knows what a war memorial is. The First World War might have been 100 years ago, but we have all been taught about it in school. There are some families who had four sons named on there and there are so many stories of sacrifice.
“Whoever is doing this mustn’t have any respect for themselves, let alone others.
“It is a bit of a hang-out for younger people up there because there are three seats, and that’s fine, but not if something like this is happening. I don’t know what the answer is. You can’t keep an eye on it 24/7.”
Graffiti has also been scrawled on a wall about 100m away from the memorial, near Morpeth Castle.
Morpeth Town Council took over responsibility for the monument two years ago. Clerk Gillian Turner has inspected the damage and an expert was expected to examine it last night to determine what, if any, repairs can be made.
Ms Turner said: “This is an awful problem to have at any time, but especially so in the centenary year of World War I and just before Remembrance Sunday.
“It looks like someone has scratched the memorial with a coin or some type of sharp implement and it has taken some of the patina off.
“We have asked a monumental mason to come out to have a look and to see whether the graffiti can be rubbed off, or something put on to take it off and protect the memorial. Hopefully, he can tell us the best way to repair it.
“However, I am conscious that we have got a big remembrance event on November 9 so we might just be doing a temporary job so the names of the fallen are still there for our memorial service. We can then take the plaques away after that for repairs if that needs to happen.”
Morpeth Neighbourhood Police Inspector Steve Baker warned that severe penalties, including a jail term, could be imposed for such crimes.
He said: “Vandals may think criminal damage is harmless fun, but their behaviour can have a negative impact on the community and unnecessarily raise the fear of crime. Not only that, but it ruins the environment and facilities that have been provided for the community.
“Criminal damage simply won’t be tolerated and those responsible could find themselves with a criminal record, and even a custodial sentence.”
Anyone with information about the vandalism should call police on 101.