Outraged residents and councillors have complained of a “lack of respect” for the fallen after the bulldozers tore up Wimbledon Village’s landmark war memorial garden.
Council workmen moved in shortly after the Wimbledon Guardian revealed last week plans to replace the grass garden surrounding the memorial on Parkside in Wimbledon Village with gravel.
The memorial, built in 1919, commemorates Wimbledon residents whose lives were lost while serving their country.
Councillor Andrew Judge, cabinet member for environment and regeneration, said the gravel would cost less to maintain than grass and was necessary because of a reduced grant from the Government.
But Councillor Samantha George, Merton Conservatives’ heritage spokeswoman, called the behaviour of Merton Council "outrageous".
She said: "To literally send the bulldozers in to the War Memorial garden while we’re still contesting their plans shows a total lack of respect for our fallen war heroes.
"They claim they can’t afford to keep the grass, but there are millions in the council’s bank and residents have offered to maintain the grounds for free.
"Their arguments don’t wash - shame on them."
Offers from residents to take over the upkeep of the grounds at their own expense were refused by the council.
One resident commenting online said: "As an ex-soldier I cannot believe that Merton council want to replace the memorial garden with gravel.
"This disrespects the death of the brave hero’s [sic] and should not go ahead."
Another said: "Disgraceful. What happened to the Big Society?
"I'm sure there are many locals who would have happily volunteered to look after the garden."
Last week the council confirmed there would be no consultation of their plans.
A spokesman for the War Memorials Trust said: “Whilst it is a shame that the grass around the memorial is to be lost we would advise that such a change is reversible.
“War Memorials Trust recommends that the community are consulted on any proposals affecting a war memorial, particularly as this is a listed war memorial, however we recognise that there is no duty to do so outside of planning regulations.”