Residents of a Belgian village are furious after their mayor ordered the removal of a Royal Air Force war memorial, honouring British troops.
The monument in Doel, on the River Schelde near Antwerp, was taken away in the early hours of Monday and its plinth was destroyed by workmen. It had stood on the site since 1948 in memory of those who manned defences against German air raids in WWII.
Since the first rumours emerged that the memorial was under threat, Alain Heyrman, 48, has campaigned to protect it. "It was still respected and honoured by everyone round here," he said. "It's important for us to have the remembrance of the Second World War and the brave British soldiers who fought for our freedom."
Every July since 1948 the villagers have held a procession finishing at the polished granite memorial, honouring their RAF defenders. But that ended in 2009 when the local mayor, Marc Van de Vijver, banned it. Those villagers believe the memorial's removal is the latest part of a plan to weaken their resolve to campaign to save Doel.
The embankment of the River Schelde is the place where the action took place, where the artillery guns were, so people have to respect that the monument should be here”. Marc Van de Vijver denies this and insists the two issues must not be linked. He says the memorial's future is guaranteed, albeit in another nearby town five or six miles away.
The mayor also explained that workmen removed the memorial under cover of darkness because they simply wanted to make an early start. Mr Heyrman is livid with the mayor's conduct and says the port expansion should at worst need the memorial to have been shifted a short distance along the riverbank.
"Even if the port expansion ever takes place, they could still keep the monument here," he said. "If necessary relocating it 100m along the embankment to outside the limits of the new port. The monument is the soul of the village and should not have been moved.
"There's no connection with the other village. The embankment of the River Schelde is the place where the action took place, where the artillery guns were, so people have to respect that the monument should be here."
Those who have spent decades honouring the memory of British troops who fought to keep Europe free of tyranny say they will fight on until the memorial is returned to where they believe is the only fitting and proper place - the village of Doel.