Belfast Telegraph

History brought back to life as Second World War pillbox restored by Glentoran fans

The wartime pillbox at The Oval
The wartime pillbox at The Oval
The scene of devastation in east Belfast after the blitz of 1941
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A dedicated group of Glentoran fans have restored a unique piece of history that had been hidden away for decades at their beloved club.

Irish League supporters will be well aware of the special history surrounding the famous east Belfast team after The Oval was bombed by the Luftwaffe in 1941.

However, some Glens fans have probably been unaware of the history of the pillbox, which is located on the club's Sydenham Hill.

The pillbox, part of the defences during the Second World War, is a small hexagonal concrete structure installed by the Ministry of Defence in 1940.

After the 1941 destruction of The Oval, the pillbox fell into a state of disrepair.

But now, seven decades since Glentoran moved back into Mersey Street after the bombing, the defence structure is back to its former glory.

Glentoran Community Trust, which aims to preserve and explore the history of the football club, first set about restoring the Type 24 pillbox after it became a safety hazard.

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Sam Robinson, one of the members of the group, explained that the structure had become an area for anti-social behaviour and the corrugated iron roof had started to collapse.

"We were always minded that we would like to keep the pillbox in good shape and recently the roof had come away, so there were huge shards of corrugated iron that were falling off," he said.

"Kids run in and out of it all the time, so we just wanted to make it safer.

"It was infested by weeds as well and it was just in a really, really sad state."

Along with the Department for Communities, the Glentoran Community Trust approached the original builders of the pillbox, the Royal Engineers, and aided by their knowledge and expertise, a three-day drive to complete the restoration began.

The small red-bricked structure slowly came back to life after the removal of weeds and graffiti, while a path and door were also put in place.

Sam said: "That piece of land is actually owned by the Harbour Commission, but we felt, as supporters, we needed to tidy it up.

"We have restored it back to the way it would have been in 1940 as much as we can. The people involved worked like Trojans for eight hours over three days."

Next month will mark the 70th anniversary of Glentoran's return to The Oval and one of the most interesting pieces of the club's history can now take centre stage of the celebrations.

"It's amazing that everything lined up for us and we were able to do it in that timescale," Sam added.

"The Oval has a very rich and varied history and we always had aspirations of looking at the pillbox and seeing what we could do because it's one of the last tangible pieces of history in regards to the Belfast blitz."

He encouraged fans, as well as the public, to take a walk up Sydenham Hill to view a wonderful piece of Belfast's history.

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