Relatives of one of the New Zealand servicemen whose grave has been desecrated in Libya had been hoping to visit the cemetery and a cousin says they will be devastated by the news.

The headstone of Sergeant Maurice Mutton, who died in the Western Desert in 1943 aged 25, was smashed and left lying on the ground by vandals who attacked the Benghazi War Cemetery at the weekend.

His was one of 11 headstones there belonging to fallen Kiwis - all of which were either smashed or tipped over.

A relative, who did not want to be named, said the vandalism happened at a time when her two cousins - Sergeant Mutton's nephews - were at her place talking about him and their hopes to visit his grave.


She said the men, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, would be very distressed at the news.

"They are very, very, enthusiastic genealogists and are interested to know all the history and anything they can get hold of. This will come as sad news for them."

Sergeant Mutton was a member of the Northcote-Birkenhead Rugby Union and Sports Club, where his name is still well known thanks to a shield in his memory presented to outstanding senior teams each year.

Club members, including Defence Minister and Northcote MP Jonathan Coleman, yesterday reacted with shock to the news his grave was among those damaged.

"It's a well-known local trophy and his is a name which is remembered around our rugby club," Dr Coleman said.

"As Minister of Defence, I'm very determined that we are going to make sure that these gravestones are repaired."

Darin Kitching of Auckland was saddened to hear the grave of his great-uncle Lorenzo Richard Feasey was one of those destroyed.

The flight sergeant died at age 21 when his plane was shot down.


Mr Kitching tried to visit the grave in 1995 while he was in Egypt but was not allowed to cross the border into Libya.

Returned and Services Association president Lieutenant-General Don McIver said the organisation was very upset to hear about the damage done at the cemetery, something that was extremely rare.

"The news is devastating. Our concern extents extends to the families of those people who sacrificed their lives in the service of their country."

General McIver said a New Zealander living close to the cemetery had told him he had tried to tidy up the damage until the headstones could be repaired.

"He's tried to get all the relevant stones back on to the graves so there is some recognition of the people there."

Prime Minister John Key said the desecration would be "heartbreaking" for families involved and the graves would be repaired by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


The 11 New Zealanders buried at the Benghazi War Cemetery:

* Private Hedley James Boult
* Flying Officer Hector Hugh Crawford
* Flight Sergeant Lorenzo Richard Feasey
* Flying Officer William Lynn Kauter
* Lance Corporal Arthur Leslie Milne
* Sergeant Maurice Reginald Mutton
* Lieutenant Hector Alexander McAulay
* Flight Sergeant Mitchell Ridland
* Aircraftman First Class Thomas Martin Scott
* Pilot Officer William George Duncan Thurston
* Private Peter Edgar Alfred Vivienne Wardle.