In July 2019, Glentoran Community Trust oversaw the restoration of a World War Two pillbox within The Oval football ground. The Glentoran Pillbox is a Type 24 and stands on Sydenham Hill next to the Irish League club's stadium.
Built by the Ministry of Defence in 1940, it survived the devastation of the ground by Luftwaffe bombs during The Fire Raid of the Belfast Blitz. To begin with, Glentoran Football Club wanted to charge the British Army £1 per week for renting the land. A deal struck saw them receive £1 per year instead.
The rest of Glentoran Football Club’s stadium suffered almost complete destruction on the night of 4th-5th May 1941. That night, soldiers from the Gloucestershire Regiment based at nearby Victoria Park manned the pillbox. They watched as high explosives and parachute mines fell on Harland and Wolff and Short and Harland factories. A parachute mine fell on the pitch at The Oval, destroying the main stand and forming a large crater in the playing field.
After the War
Since 1941, the pillbox had fallen into disrepair. Vandalised by graffiti, with damaged metalwork, and with weeds reclaiming the structure, there was a danger the pillbox would crumble.
I think everybody of our generation – I’m in my mid-50s now – has grown up going to the Oval and always being aware of the small building on the top of Sydenham Hill. We had looked into the history of it and found it to be a World War Two pillbox. The reason it was built there is because that hill in the ground was the highest point in inner east Belfast – you had an uninterrupted view of the airfield, the aircraft factory, the shipyard – the whole of the city skyscape.
Sam Robinson (Glentoran Community Trust) interviewed by the Belfast Telegraph – July 2019.
During the restoration, the Department of Communities digitally mapped the site. The work was then carried out by a unit of Royal Engineers. They cleaned up the brickwork, fixed any damage and restored the roof to its 1940 state. The site now also features a concrete pathway, sandbags, and a plaque telling the story of The Oval during World War Two.
Restoration of the Glentoran pillbox coincides with the 70th anniversary of the club’s return to The Oval after the Belfast Blitz.