One in three French backs Saddam
By Charles Bremner and Alan Hamilton
Times of London - 2 April:
ILL-FEELING between Britain and France over the invasion of Iraq has plumbed new depths with the desecration of that most sacred of memorials, a war cemetery.
The defilement of Commonwealth war graves in northern France coincided with a poll for The Times which found that 54 per cent of Britons no longer regarded France as a close ally because of its opposition to the war.
Relations will be further rent by a second poll, in Le Monde, showing that only a third of the French felt that they were on the same side as the Americans and British, and that another third desired outright Iraqi victory over “les anglo-saxons”.
Eleven thousand Allied soldiers lie buried in well-tended peace at Etaples, on the Channel coast near Le Touquet, victims of the struggle by Anglo-Saxons to liberate the French from the German invaders during the First World War.
Last week the obelisk raised in their memory was defiled by red-painted insults such as “Rosbeefs go home”; “May Saddam prevail and spill your blood”; and, in a reference to the long-dead casualties beneath the manicured turf, “They are soiling our land”.
Local gendarmerie have launched an inquiry, but have so far found no clues. They say there had been no significant demonstrations against the war in that area of France.
The graffiti have been scrubbed off, but the incident has provoked outrage among British politicians, war graves staff and the few remaining relatives of those buried at Etaples. French politicians have joined the condemnation.
Bruce George, Labour chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said: “Remembering what sacrifice these men made for the liberation of France, I cannot believe any mature, sane person would be so stupid as that.”
David Uffold, 63, a Shropshire farmer, is the only surviving relative of Rifleman Frederick Uffold of the London Regiment, who is buried at Etaples. “I find it sickening that anyone would vandalise the cemetery,” he said. “It is the last place they should be protesting about Iraq. These fellows were drafted in to fight for France. I can’t see any connection between the men buried at Etaples and the war in Iraq.”
Peter Francis, of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said he was disgusted that a place remembering those who died defending freedom in world wars long ago should be dragged into a current political debate.
French politicians did their best to portray the desecration as an isolated act, but it nonetheless underlined anti-American and anti-British emotions running through France over what is seen there as a bungled invasion rapidly turning into a humanitarian disaster.
President Chirac’s spokesman said: “We are indignant and shocked by the desecration of the graves of soldiers who fought for our liberty.” Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Prime Minister, said: “The Americans are not the enemy; just because we are against this war, it does not mean that we want the victory of dictatorship over democracy.”