Preserving wartime relic at Irish League football ground

Sam Robinson at the pillbox at the Oval football ground which has been restored.
Sam Robinson at the pillbox at the Oval football ground which has been restored.
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Part of the heritage of Glentoran FC, and in turn a reminder of the Belfast Blitz, is being restored at the club’s Belfast home.

The Type 24 pill box which sits on top of Sydenham Hill had become a familiar landmark at the Oval even for those who were not aware of its history, however in recent times the WWII guard post has fallen into disrepair.

The pillbox at the Oval football ground. 'Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

The pillbox at the Oval football ground. 'Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

Its restoration – by the same regiment which originally built it – comes as the east Belfast club next month marksthe 70th anniversary of its return to the Oval after eight years in exile during the Second World War.

Sam Robinson, a fan of the club for nearly 50 years and a member of the Glentoran Community Trust, said: “Glentoran was almost bombed into extinction during the 1941 Belfast Blitz, but in 1949 the club rose from the ashes. The team and the stadium was rebuilt bigger and better than before.

“The pill box is a tangible piece of the club’s past, a reminder that the Oval survived the Blitz. It was manned by lads from the Gloucestershire Regiment on the night the bombs fell right in front of them, onto the ground and the shipyard, aircraft factory and streets all around.”

Sam said the pill box had become a well-known feature at the Oval for football fans as well as visitors from Europe.

He added: “Sadly, down through the decades, this unique piece of history has not been treated with the reverence it deserves.

“Not only is it part of our history, it is part of the history of Belfast harbour, Harland & Wolff shipyard, Shorts aircraft factory and that of greater east Belfast.

“It has fallen into disrepair, with sharp pieces of rusting ironwork a hazard to anyone visiting it, invaded by weeds and with part of the interior corrugated iron ceiling collapsing.”

Enter the club’s Community Trust, set up around 15 years ago to preserve and explore the heritage of Glentoran FC.

Sam said: “Over the past year, the club and the Glentoran Community Trust have worked closely with the Department of the Communities to have the building digitally mapped and photographed in detail.

“That work completed, we have now been able, with the phenomenal involvement of the Royal Engineers – the regiment who would have built it originally – to begin the restoration of the building to allow visitors to explore it safely.

“Work has commenced on the removal of the invasive weeds in the structure, the clearance and cleaning of the interior, the removal of graffiti, the cleaning of brickwork and plinths, clearance of debris surrounding it and the removal of shrubbery in the immediate vicinity. We hope to restore it to its original condition when it was built in 1940, on the land rented from Glentoran for the princely sum of £1 per year.

“Our great friends in the Royal Engineers alongside the board of the Trust have been working together in order to have the pill box restored in time for the 70th anniversary of Glentoran coming back to the Oval.”

Sam urged visitors to the Oval to treat the site with care and “take a moment to remember those from our city who died during the raids and those who stood defiant in our time of need”.