Preserving a piece of history: Deconstructing the Holy Roller WWII Sherman tank

The Holy Roller tank being preserved at the Fanshawe School of Transportation Technology and Apprenticeship on July 29, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

Usually, on display in Victoria Park, the famed Holly Roller Second World War tank is a few minutes away undergoing preservation efforts at Fanshawe College in London Ont.

The Holy Roller, one of only two surviving Canadian Sherman tanks to have crossed Normandy beach on D-Day and survived until VE-Day 11 months later.

Since 1956, its home has been at the top of Victoria Park in London. But as of June 8, it has been in the Fanshawe School of Transportation Technology and Apprenticeship.

Volunteers are currently undergoing the process of dismantling the massive war machine to refurbish and replace parts while preserving the outer body by removing rust and resealing and painting it.

“There is a network of people and companies that still have components for Sherman tanks — there were thousands of them built and a lot were left in Europe at the end of the war, so there are a lot of tanks and parts there,” said retired lieutenant-colonel Ian Halsey, 1st Hussars Association of London.

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The Memorial Preservation Project is being led by a team of volunteers with the 1st Hussars Cavalry Fund, with the facilities and equipment provided by Fanshawe College.

Read more: Holy Roller leaves Victoria Park for first time in decades for badly-needed restoration

The 1st Hussars Cavalry Fund has so far raised over half of its $250,000 goal for the project.

Volunteer Gary Cambridge, who is in charge of the preservation team, said it’s hard to put words to what it’s like to work on the project.

“It is like being a kid again, building a model,” but on a much bigger scale, Cambridge said.

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“It’s on a once-in-a-lifetime project. Everyone I have spoken to is really excited to work on it. It’s one of our last remaining World War II veterans, so we have to look after it because it symbolizes the sacrifices people made.

“We are taking it apart with a lot of reverence and respect because of what it has done and what it symbolizes for a lot of people.”

Before it is finished, the team will make sure the tank has a special coating and that they have plugged holes to prevent water from seeping in.

The tank has survived 18 battles and travelled over 4,000 kilometres.

Read more: Ontario airmen lost in Second World War bombing raid to be laid to rest

Two Fanshawe broadcasting – television and film production students have 3D mapped the entire inside of the tank, creating an interactive 360-degree view of the tank and documenting the restoration process.

“We started off just filming the tank when it got moved. We talked to some of the guys and they wanted pictures inside the tank, and I told them about the 3D camera we have,” student Emma Wilson said.

Wilson and fellow classmate Taylor Meloche plan to take a new scan of the tank every month throughout the project.

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“It gives you an idea as to what it was like in the tank. Talking to experts, they were saying it’s hard to capture that claustrophobic feeling being inside and we were able to get that for them,” Meloche said.

The plan is to have the tank refurbished and preserved by June 2022, in time for the 150 anniversary of the 1st Hussars.

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