‘Grit, strength and sacrifice’: Holy Roller returns to Victoria Park in London, Ont.

The Holy Roller is the one of only two Canadian Sherman tanks to return to Canada in 1946 that fought from D-Day to VE Day. Andrew Graham/Global News London

After London, Ont. officials unveiled the results of the Holy Roller Memorial Project on Monday, the military tank has finally returned to its post downtown in Victoria Park.

The Holy Roller is the one of only two Canadian Sherman tanks to return to Canada in 1946 that fought from D-Day to VE Day. Over the last 12 months, a dedicated team of volunteers carefully undertook the extensive and painstaking preservation process at Fanshawe College.

This year marks the 78th anniversary of the D-Day landing. The last surviving member of tank’s D-Day crew passed away last year, leaving the Holy Roller to stand in their honour in London’s Victoria Park.

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“The Holy Roller represents the grit, strength and sacrifice of our service men and women. It is an honour to have this incredible artifact forever memorialized in our downtown core,” said retired lieutenant-colonel Ian Haley, who served as the project’s director. “We are forever grateful for the partnerships that allow us to play host to such an important piece of our collective history and we look forward to gathering to commemorate that history.”

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Londoners gathered by the dozen on Tuesday to welcome the tank back to its home, including Paul Smith, a former Canadian military captain who retired in 1979.

“I’ve driven one of those,” said Smith. “I’m not a Londoner, but I was in the military years ago when we still had those, so it’s just wonderful to see what these guys have done.”

Londoners Kerri Ronson and Kathy Vosdingh reminisced on their fond memories of the tank, explaining how it became an iconic staple to the city.

“I remember being a kid and coming here with my family and climbing and playing on it while we all hung off,” said Ronson.

“We did the same thing as well,” added Vosdingh. “We probably have pictures of us posing in front of it or climbing on it because it was the first thing we wanted to see when we came to the park…It’s a staple of the community and I’m so happy to see that it’s been restored.”

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Along with the Holly Roller’s return to the park, Tuesday also marked the 150th anniversary of the creation of the 1st Hussars, the London-based regiment that landed with the tank on Juno Beach on D-Day.

National dignitaries from across the country will join the tanks preservation team in ceremony and celebration this weekend which will feature military displays in Victoria Park to commemorate over 150 years of military support to the London community.

Deputy project director and retired sergeant Gary Cambridge said to see the Holy Roller Memorial Project come to an end “is bittersweet.”

“It’s taken up a lot of time and now that it’s over it’s like, wow. Now what do we do?”

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The Holy Roller Memorial Project now have their eyes set on another historic restoration, this time overseas.

“The 1st Hussars have another tank in France,” said Cambridge. “It’s one of the swimming tanks that sunk before it hit the beach, and we know it needs work, but the crew was like yeah, we’re good to go. So, we’re just waiting for the green light and then it’s off to France.”

— With files from Global News’ Andrew Graham.

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