CEMETERY caretakers and visitors were left "shocked, upset and disgusted" after seeing a French war memorial covered with anti-war graffiti, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission said.

The memorial, at Etaples, near Boulogne, on the Channel coast, was daubed in red paint with slogans including "Rosbeefs (British) go home", "Saddam will win and he will make you bleed" and "Dig up your rubbish, it is contaminating our soil".

The vandalism was discovered by workers at the site, who alerted the commission's French division, who then set to work to remove the paint from the memorial, which is visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year.

Two workers spent two days cleaning off the paint.

Peter Francis, of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said vandalism at the thousands of sites looked after by the organisation was rare, but that this incident was "particularly foul".

He said: "The reaction of the people who found it was shock, upset and disgust, which was our reaction as well.

"I think that was also the reaction of the local people and the French authorities and the Gendarmerie is now watching the site."

About 11,000 British servicemen and women are buried at the cemetery, most of whom died defending France in the First World War.

The vandalism was condemned by Jack Lang, the Socialist former education and culture minister, who represents the Pas-de-Calais region in the French National Assembly.

He told a local newspaper: ''This scandalous desecration attacks the memory of the sacrifice of British and American soldiers, who courageously contributed to the liberation of France."