Memorial trees honouring Castleford soldiers have been ripped up by vandals, just a month after they were planted.
Members of the Friends of Fryston Wood created the tribute in memory of those who lost their lives during the First World War on land off Derwent Drive in Castleford in March.
But they were left heartbroken after visiting the site last Tuesday to find all but three of the 420 trees had been uprooted and left scattered on the field.
Jackie Yates, chair of the group, which also looks after the nearby Fryston Wood, said: “Castleford and its surrounding areas have a lot of war dead, more than 600, and many of their descendants still live in the area.
“We are a woodland group and we thought it was fitting to remember these people by creating a memorial woodland. It’s sickening to think what has happened.”
The group was given the trees by the Woodland Trust. And it had been working with children from Oyster Park School to plant them and create a memorial garden in which residents could remember those who had lost their lives in the 1914-1918 conflict.
The woodland project has also been supported by Wakefield Council, local councillors, Castleford Community Partnership and other community groups.
Mrs Yates, 51 said: “Everybody was on board with us. It’s devastating for the whole community.
“It is a big project that various groups and organisations have been and will be getting involved with.
“We have already given local schoolchildren a list of the names of the dead and they are carrying out some research on them.
“It feels like we have been kicked back so soon after starting. It is so demoralising.
“But we are going to come up fighting and do all we can to get the area more secure too.”
The group were planning to hold a community celebration to launch the memorial woodland next month.
But Mrs Yates said they will now have to wait until the next growing season in March before they can plant a fresh batch of trees.
The Castleford District Neighbourhood Policing Team branded are appealing for information about the vandalism, which took place between April 20 an May 2.
Inspector Paul Sullivan said: “This is a truly shameful incident, in which over 400 saplings which were planted to remember those who gave their lives in the First World War have been destroyed.
“I am sure residents will be outraged by what has taken place and there is no doubt this vandalism has had a huge impact among volunteers and youngsters who gave their time to create this garden. It is particularly sad that this incident has taken place in the build up to the UK Armed Forces Day on June 24.
“Someone in the local community may well have heard chatter about who was responsible and I would urge anyone who has any information at all to contact us.”
Wakefield Council leader Coun Peter Box added: “Those responsible for this should hang their heads in shame.
“Not only have they destroyed the hard work done by the local community but they have desecrated a memorial to those who died fighting for this country.
“I urge anyone with any information about this to contact the police.
“We have contacted the Friends group and will work with them to help restore this memorial woodland as soon as possible.”
Anyone who has information is asked to contact the Castleford NPT on 101 referencing crime number 13170196800. Information can also be given anonymously to the independent Crimestoppers Charity on 0800 555 111.