Standing tall again: The Second World War tank monument in London, Ontario, emerges from its makeover

An 80-year-old tank that has become London, Ont.’s most iconic World War II monument emerged from its nearly year-long restoration to a cheering crowd on Monday.

The Holy Roller is one of two Canadian WWII battle tanks to survive the D-Day assault until the end of the war in Europe. It was displayed in Victoria Park in 1956 and has become an enduring monument to the greatest conflict of the 20th century.

While German cannons couldn’t destroy the Holy Roller, more than half a century of Canadian weather was beginning to take its toll on the former workhorse, which began its restoration last year.

On Monday, when it was officially unveiled on what also happens to be Memorial Day in the United States, the ancient war machine drew a crowd of around 100 people. They were made up of volunteers, ex-servicemen and dignitaries who cheered as the steel giant slowly wobbled. moving forward, moving under its own power for the first time since the late 1940s.

Restoration a Community Effort

“It was truly amazing,” said Ian Haley, retired 1st Hussars lieutenant colonel and director of the restoration project, who has many family ties to the Holy Roller.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Ian Haley stands in front of Fanshawe College’s fully restored Holy Roller. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“We all grew up with it. My sons worked there. I worked there. My stepfather, before he died, was the commander of the regiment. It was his tank.”

Restoration of the monument was a community effort, made possible by dozens of volunteers and a number of local organizations.

The list includes:

  • London First Hussars Regiment.
  • Gunsmith General Dynamic Land Systems Canada.
  • Fanshawe College.
  • Tobaggan Brewing, a craft brewery that helped fund part of the project with part of the proceeds from its Holy Roller Lager.

“It was a fabulous community project,” said Peter Devlin, president of Fanshawe College, where much of the vehicle’s restoration work was carried out.

Reservoir to return to Victoria Park

Devlin, a former military man himself, said he made regular visits to see the work. What marked him lastingly was the esprit de corps of those who worked on the project.

One of two Canadian Sherman tanks to survive the D-Day assault until the end of the war in Europe, the Holy Roller is a monument in London, Ontario to those who served in World War II worldwide since 1956. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“It was great to see the friendship, camaraderie and morale of this group, just like a group of soldiers and the pride they felt in restoring this magnificent memorial.”

The Holy Roller will return to its original location in Victoria Park on Tuesday, where Haley hopes it can spend at least 50 years before needing to be restored again.

Haley hopes that current and future generations watching the ancient fighting machine will reflect on the people who fought inside its steel belly and made sacrifices for the greater good of the community.

“We also want them to think that this is not a memorial to a whole bunch of superhumans, but just a whole bunch of ordinary people who have done a whole bunch of extraordinary things.”

Haley said the lessons these citizen soldiers taught us fighting in World War II are especially true today, as many people talk about freedom, but little about citizenship itself.

“Some of them unfortunately didn’t come back. There is a price for freedom. Freedom doesn’t come cheap.”