Desecrated Barberton gunners’ plinth restored

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As September – Heritage Month in South Africa – draws to a close the efforts of old soldiers in restoring an important part of the country’s military history must be commended.

The “old soldiers” came from the ranks of the East Rand branch of the Gunners’ Association and the MOTH (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) Lone Tree Shellhole.

They rallied round when it was made known vandals desecrated a gunner’s plinth in the Barberton, Mpumalanga, Garden of Remembrance. The garden was the site of a wreath laying ceremony ahead of Armed Forces Day in Mbombela in February with President Cyril Ramaphosa among those present.

On being informed the gunner’s plinth, along with others in the garden, were targeted by vandals, the East Rand Gunners’ Association branch was tasked with restoration. Branch chair Gunner Kevin Fenton, assisted by Gunner Mark Scholtz and the national office “jumped into action for the onerous task of rebuilding and restoring the plinth to its former glory”.

Barberton MOTHs from the Lone Tree Shellhole provided “much-needed assistance” during restoration and at the unveiling ceremony. This was done by Gunners’ Association national president, former SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief Reserves, Roy Andersen.

The garden of remembrance in Barberton is on the site of an old military training camp used during World War 11 before regiments were sent to North Africa. Many regiments had their unit badges made up as plaques with some still the original plaques as built at the time according to the Association.

Regimental plinths in the Barberton Garden of Remembrance were built by units of the 5th South African Infantry Brigade starting in 1942.

The brigade trained in Barberton in 1942 before deployment first to Abyssinia and then to the Western Desert.

The brigade included the SA Irish, 2nd Regiment Botha and 3rd Transvaal Scottish and was commanded by a Brigadier General Armstrong.

“Those who trained in Barberton could not have foreseen what lay before them in Libya as part of the 1st South African Division which was advancing to relieve Tobruk.

“The Brigade was deployed in a box formation just south of Sidi Rezegh when they were surprised by the forces of Erwin Rommel. He attacked the South African forces from the east (SA Irish) and south. A hundred and ten tanks of 8 Panzer Regiment annihilated the 5th Brigade. The SA gunners comprising 3rd Field Regiment (THA) and 7th Field Regiment played an important role and inflicted numerous casualties on the German tanks, firing over open sights. Their performance was described as ‘magnificent’.

“Remnants of the 5th Brigade were subsequently taken prisoner at Tobruk.

“The Garden of Remembrance is a fitting tribute to the brave men of the 5th Brigade. It also has a Boer War memorial and is a heritage site,” notes the Gunners’ Association.