For the first time in 65 years, London’s iconic Holy Roller tank is no longer standing guard at the northern end of Victoria Park.
But fear not. It’s disappearance is just temporary.
On Tuesday, a massive crane delicately hoisted the historic 33-ton military vehicle skyward from its longtime pad, placing it on a nearby flatbed truck for transportation to Fanshawe College.
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It’s at the college’s School of Transportation Technology and Apprenticeship where the Holy Roller will undergo a badly-needed, year-long restoration.
The project will be led by the 1st Hussars, the regiment who, 77 years ago this past Sunday, landed the tank on Juno Beach during D-Day and drove it across northwestern Europe through to the end of the war. Work will be completed by volunteers and Fanshawe students.
“We’re super excited,” said Fanshawe College’s president, Peter Devlin, in an interview with 980 CFPL’s Mike Stubbs on Wednesday.
“This is a great project for faculty and staff, and we will have a number of different programs that will be involved in this important restoration project for the next year.”
The Holy Roller is expected to be disassembled, refurbished, and returned to its place in the park next year, in time for the 1st Hussars’ 150th anniversary in the spring. The Victoria Park pad itself is also set to see some improvements, including gardens, benches, and new plaques.
“The Holy Roller is a symbol. It reflects the commitment that Canada made years ago to share our values and provide freedom across the globe,” Devlin said.
“I think it’s a really powerful visual image of Canada, of a regiment that had soldiers commit themselves to Canadian values, and the association, I think, is doing a great job.”
By outward appearance, the Sherman tank, one of just two Canadian tanks to survive from D-Day to VE-Day, has been holding up well, thanks in part to occasional repainting.
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However, members of the 1st Hussars and the city, which owns Holy Roller, found a completely different story on the inside of the tank in 2017 when they opened it for the first time since 1956, the year Holy Roller was moved to Victoria Park.
In an interview last year, 1st Hussars commanding officer Lt.-Col. Allan Finney remarked to 980 CFPL that the Holy Roller was found to be rusting from the inside out, with the hull expected to collapse and fall apart “probably within the next five to 10 years or so.”
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The 1st Hussars launched a fundraising project to raise money for the tank’s preservation, with the goal of collecting $250,000 from the public. As of Wednesday, just over half, $127,090, had been raised so far.
The regiment had considered overhauling the tank to put it in working order at a cost of $500,000, but later decided not to, citing concerns over storage, maintenance and related costs.
“While we have a long way to go, we are grateful for the support we’ve received from Fanshawe College and all donors and volunteers, to date,” said retired Lt.-Col. Ian Haley in a statement released by the college.
“Our community is truly pulling together so that our veterans can be remembered through the Holy Roller memorial.”
The Holy Roller tank was built by General Motors in Flint, Michigan in 1942, and after landing on Juno Beach, survived more than a dozen battles as it traversed terrain in France, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Several battles nearly brought the Holy Roller’s rolling to an end, but repairs managed to keep the tank operating through to the end of the war. The 1st Hussars chose to bring the tank back home as a war trophy rather than have it sent to the scrap heap.
Returning to Canada in early 1946, Holy Roller spent two years outside of the former London Armouries, and then another eight in Queen’s Park near Western Fair. It was later gifted to the city and moved to Victoria Park in 1956.
Donations to the ongoing preservation fund can be made online at www.holyrollermemorial.ca, or by cheque to Holy Roller Memorial Preservation Project, 1st Hussars, Wolseley Barracks, 701 Oxford. St. E, London, ON, N5Y4T7.
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