Standing tall again: WW II tank monument in London, Ont., emerges from makeover

·3 min read
The Holy Roller emerges from the garage at the Applied Centre for Transportation Technologies at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., for its first official public unveiling.  (Colin Butler/CBC News - image credit)
The Holy Roller emerges from the garage at the Applied Centre for Transportation Technologies at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., for its first official public unveiling. (Colin Butler/CBC News - image credit)

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

The Holy Roller is one of two Canadian combat tanks from the Second World War to have survived the assault on D-Day right up until end of the war in Europe. It was put on display in Victoria Park in 1956 and has become an enduring monument to the 20th-century's largest conflict.

While German guns couldn't destroy the Holy Roller, more than half a century of Canadian weather was starting to take its toll on the old warhorse, which began its restoration last year.

On Monday, at its official unveiling on what also happens to be Memorial Day in the U.S., the ancient war machine drew a crowd of about 100. They were made up of volunteers, former military personnel and dignitaries who cheered as the steel behemoth slowly lurched 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, a retired lieutenant-colonel with the 1st Hussars and the restoration project's director, who has a number of family connections to the Holy Roller.

Colin Butler/CBC News
Colin Butler/CBC News

"We all grew up with it. My sons worked on it. I worked on it. My father-in-law, before he passed away, was the commanding officer of the regiment. It was his tank."

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

The list includes:

  • London's First Hussars regiment.

  • Arms manufacturer General Dynamic Land Systems Canada.

  • Fanshawe College.

  • Tobaggan Brewing, a craft brewery that helped bankroll some of the project with a portion of proceeds from its Holy Roller Lager.

"This has been a fabulous community project," said Peter Devlin, president of Fanshawe College, where much of the vehicle's restoration work was done.

Tank to return to Victoria Park

Devlin, a former military man himself, said he regularly made visits to see the work. What had a lasting effect on him was the esprit de corps of those working on the project.

Colin Butler/CBC News
Colin Butler/CBC News

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

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

Haley hopes current and future generations looking at the old 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 it's a memorial to not a whole bunch of supermen, but just a whole bunch of ordinary people who did a bunch of extraordinary things."

Haley said the lessons those citizen soldiers taught us by fighting in the Second World War ring especially true today, as many people talk about freedom, but little of citizenship itself.

"Some of them unfortunately didn't come back. There is a price for freedom. Freedom isn't cheap."

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