IN an act that is hard to comprehend, a person or persons unknown last Friday night took upon themselves to cut down a 2.5-metre pine tree growing in the grounds of the Merbein Cemetery.

And this wasn’t just any pine tree. It was a seedling propagated from a Lone Pine growing in Gallipoli, which was planted at the cemetery in 2015.

The Australian War Memorial acquired a large number of the trees which were distributed throughout Australia to various organisations.

A plaque sits beside the tree which commemorates the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.

It’s hard to imagine the perpetrators of this crime not seeing that plaque even though they acted in the midst of the night as they would have to have had some light.

One can only assume that the tree has been taken to adorn someone’s lounge room for Christmas. The significance of the sacrilegious nature of this act can’t be over looked and it is hoped that the police will find out who was behind it and throw the book at them.

Merbein Cemetery Trust president Graeme Worthington said that until recently there had been a guard around the tree.

“It had grown so much and was starting lean over and so we decided to remove that and put a post in the ground beside it with a rope to keep it upright,” he said.

“It was a very small tree when it was planted and it was growing nicely, coming up beautiful and straight, until this happened.

“We have had an arborist come and have a look at the stump that’s left to see if it might regrow. He said that there is a chance that it might re-strike but I think we are going to replace it and enquiries are already under way to do that.

“We are confident that we will be able to acquire another Lone Pine in the future.”

Mr Worthington said that one of the Trust’s hard working volunteers Richard Wells was out at the cemetery on Saturday morning and discovered what had happened.

“We don’t know, but we are just assuming that someone has got themselves an early Christmas tree. Why else would someone do something like this?” he said.

“The thing that is so frustrating, is that they would have stood on the plaque while they were cutting it down.”

The significance of the Lone Pine means that in reality this is the desecration of a war memorial.

“The outrage expressed by people on social media and the phone calls we have received from people in the community highlights what a disgraceful act it is,” Mr Worthington said.

“Young people in their early 20s have expressed their shock and dismay that anyone could do this given the significance of the Lone Pine and to just cut it down.”

Current Merbein RSL president, Brian Munro was joined by then president, Tom Storer when they planted the tree in 2015.

He said that while he is disgusted with the act, he hopes that they didn’t realise what the tree was.

“To think they did would be too much to bear,” Mr Munro said.

“I think someone who may have attended a funeral here recently may have noticed it and thought it would make a good Christmas tree and has come out here one night soon after and cut it down.

“I’d like to think they didn’t see the plaque and didn’t know the significance of it − that’s what I’m hoping.

“I don’t like to consider the alternative. I don’t even want to think about it.”

Douglas White is the Merbein Cemetery’s grave digger of 20 years and the incident has shocked him too.

“Vandalism is rare here,” he said.

“We probably get some lairs doing a few donuts in the car park but no damage to graves or any of that sort of thing until this,” he said.

“I doubt they would have seen the plaque in the dark, but you don’t know.

“I’d driven past it the day before while I was out here working and it was where it has always been and the next day it’s gone! It was a shock to all of us.”

By JOHN DOOLEY