VETERANS have slammed the actions of vandals who broke a marble bust at the Mitchell Park World War I Memorial Gates in Merewether, saying it is the first time the site has been damaged after standing tall for almost a century.
Merewether Hamilton Adamstown RSL Sub-Branch president, Phil Winney, said an orange traffic cone had been "jammed" onto the bust of a soldier - which sits atop the gates' left column - over the weekend, most likely on Friday evening. The brim of the soldier's slouch hat has broken off and into several pieces.
"It's really upset me - it's just so disrespectful," Mr Winney said.
"It's mindless, senseless vandalism. Why someone would get satisfaction from that I don't know.
"They didn't walk by and plonk it on, they had to climb onto the gates and memorial.
"I attended the HMAS Newcastle [Freedom of Entry] March on Saturday and thought 'What a great service, the people of Newcastle have turned out and how nice is this?'
"Then this happened I thought 'Bloody mongrels'. It broke my heart.
"This is the first time to my recollection that the memorial has been defaced or vandalised."
Mr Winney has reported the damage to Newcastle Police and the City of Newcastle and he said the council's maintenance team would assess this week if and how the bust could be repaired, including whether the broken fragments could be reused.
"The cost could be into the thousands," he said.
"Hopefully they can use the bits and pieces but if they can't, in my mind it will always be fake and not the original memorial."
He said Merewether residents had contributed money for the memorial to be erected and it was unveiled in 1921.
"To put that much money in back then was a real effort," he said.
"People couldn't afford to go to visit the graves of their dead so the gates became a place for people to go and remember the soldiers who did not return."
The original ornamental gates rusted away and were replaced with a brick wall in the 1950s.
When Mr Winney became president one of his priorities was to remove the brick wall and install replica gates that were unveiled in 2012, "such was my respect for everyone who fought in World War I".
The sub-branch holds an Anzac Day service at the memorial every year.
"I fought in Vietnam, which I thought was pretty tough," he said.
"But then I started reading military history and what they went through and what I suffered was chalk and cheese. It shocked me. To charge with bayonets and walk across open ground and be slaughtered is terribly frightful."
Newcastle City Police District Inspector Deborah O'Reilly said it was "disappointing" to hear about the damage and that police would investigate. She said anyone with information or an explanation - including the culprits - should contact police or Crime Stoppers.