IT is the year when Hampshire veterans mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War.
But instead of preparing for one of their most important anniversaries in years, one Royal British Legion branch is being targeted in a series of “vendetta”-style attacks.
Members of the Bitterne clubhouse in Southampton are facing bills for thousands of pounds’ worth of damage after their headquarters was burgled and smashed up five times – in just two weeks.
Slot machines, pool and snooker tables and a window have been destroyed at the club – and £8,000 has been stolen from safes along with a 46in television.
Vandals even broke into an outdoor shed and opened nitrogen gas cylinders which could have destroyed the club had they exploded.
Chairman Peter Everson, 74, believes the branch, based in Upper Deacon Road, is being deliberately targeted.
He said: “Everything they have done to this place has been to try to shut us down. It’s no ordinary burglary where someone comes in, takes what they want and leaves. These people keep coming back.
“The first time they tried to break in they must have given up because they couldn’t get in. But the second time they prised open the doors. We found two crowbars and an axe after they managed to prise open the office.
“Then on the third occasion they broke a window in the lounge and came in and busted up all the slot machines upstairs and even the snooker tables.
“They smashed them to bits so we could not operate them and they also stole our 46in television that we use to show football.
“They smashed open the pool table and took the money but it would not have been much. They took some money from the safes in the committee room too. But they didn’t go behind the bar or anything so we think they must have a vendetta against us.”
Mr Everson, who served in the Merchant Navy as a first class steward, added: “If the gas canisters had blown up they would have blown one side of the building off. These people do not care how much damage they do.”
He said he was unsure how much money was taken and was waiting for the insurance company to come back about the cost of the damage.
Falklands War veteran and the former leader of Southampton City Council, Royston Smith, branded the vandals the “lowest form of life”.
He said: “It’s a disgusting act that just shows how disrespectful some people are. It’s cowardice. The sort of people who are doing this are not serving their country or protecting our nation but are vandalising a symbol of the people who have done so, and that makes them the lowest form of life.”
Cllr Smith, who was an RAF engineer, added: “It’s 100 years since the First World War and yet people have no respect. They would not be able to do this without those people fighting for their liberty in the past and that is the great irony.”
Southampton City Council leader Cllr Simon Letts said: “It’s really disturbing that a much respected institution has been subjected to a sustained attack like this and I would urge the police to do everything they can in their power to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Mr Everson added: “This was supposed to be an important year for us with the anniversary of the First World War but someone has come in here and decided to do as much damage as they could. But they did not know how resilient we are. We are a charity of ex-servicemen and we have been going for 60 years and we are determined to carry on.”