Local newsNews

Living veteran history a gem in Irene

The veterans run their homes with military precision, but always make time to let their hair down.

The Gunners and Engineers Memorial (GEM) Village for Military Veterans, a non-profit organisation, is steeped in living history as shared experiences unite residents.

GEM Village is situated in Irene, near the General Smuts Museum in a quiet and picturesque rural setting with up to 150 retired veterans and pensioners.

“This property was donated by the Smuts Foundation for the development of a living facility for veterans,” said the chairman of the residents committee, Pieter Esterhuyse.

As an NPO, the village is supported by funders, local businesses and proceeds from events and the venue.

It was created in 1984 by the Gunners and Sappers Associations to serve as a safe, comfortable and affordable retirement facility for members of the South African Field Artillery, Anti-Aircraft Artillery and the South African Engineer Corps.

ALSO READ: Mamelodi police need help to solve woman’s murder case

The facility also accepts families of veterans who share a common history.

The village council keeps and maintains artefacts such as large World War I cannons and vehicles from the border war.

“Every week we get some support from various Pick n Pay stores in the area, and we organise functions to get the residents together to uplift them,” said Esterhuyse.

Liefie Plessers elevates the spirit of the functions held at the clubhouse at GEM village, doing much of the work behind the scenes, as well as taking on various personas.

She has lived in Pretoria since 1971 and has been at GEM Village since 2012.

“I enjoy entertaining people, and I like to add something special to the events.”

The retirement village is run with military precision, but as Plessers proves, there is always room for fun when she dressed up as a sheriff and held guests in jail in exchange for donations. She also added some festive cheer when she recently arrived as the Easter Bunny.

Liefie Plessers wears many hats, this time as a sheriff. Image provided

ALSO READ: Brink gaan nêrens na jaar in burgemeesterspos

Ems Kuiper is another resident proud to call the village her home.

She was married to a veteran and lived on the border during the Border war, where some of her children were born.

Her children and grandchildren still live in Pierre van Ryneveld.

“I’m still young, but I am blessed to have this place,” said Kuiper.

“When I moved here, the Pick n Pay at Doringkloof was a single building with parking around it, and now everything has developed around it. You can’t believe it, all these buildings!”

She said it was special to have her grandchildren visit, where they have space to enjoy themselves and learn about where their family comes from.

Pieter Esterhuyse
Ems Kuiper and Pieter Esterhuyse
Ems Kuiper

First Class Sergeant Major Juliana Swanepoel was stationed all over the border also calls it her home.

She originally arrived at GEM Village as the manager after her time with the army but eventually has come to enjoy her time of retirement.

She said she has seen Centurion drastically change over the years.

“In those years, there weren’t even bridges on the road to the village. We had to cross through the mud.”

Adeel Carelse, a retired naval officer, has been at the village for 10 years and said he enjoys staying with others who can relate to his life.

Carelse even described reuniting with Colonel Jaco Roux when he moved to the village, whom he knew while stationed at the border.

He said their shared history helped tie everyone together.

“We look out for each other.

“There’s a lot of history here, especially the officer corps that’s left, all of them when the bugle sounded, they responded accordingly.

“The people we have here understand each other more than anyone else can.”

The council of the village keeps and maintains artefacts such as large World War I cannons and vehicles from the border war.

Do you have more information about the story?

Please send us an email to bennittb@rekord.co.za or phone us on 083 625 4114.

For free breaking and community news, visit Rekord’s websites: Rekord East

For more news and interesting articles, like Rekord on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or Instagram

Back to top button