‘Raise that barrel’: 1st Hussars inspect London, Ontario’s D-Day tank

Article / October 26, 2017 / Project number: 17-0272

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

London, Ontario — Canadians will mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in 2019 and a group of Army Reserve Veterans in Ontario is working to preserve a valuable artifact from that important day.

The Holy Roller, a U.S.-built Sherman M4 tank that was manned in the battle by members of the 1st Hussars, has sat in London Ontario’s Victoria Park since 1950 when it was dedicated to the regiment. The 1st Hussars are lauded for being the only regiment to reach its objective in the Normandy invasion.

The Holy Roller is also one of only two tanks to land on D-Day that survived intact to the end of the war. The other, named Bomb, which was operated by members of The Sherbrooke Hussars, is on display at the William Street Armoury in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

A group of former and current 1st Hussars got a look at the Holy Roller’s interior in May 2017 when the city unsealed it for the first time since the dedication to assess its state of repair. They were greeted by the unfortunate sight of litter that had been stuffed through a number of small openings in the chassis, including needles. With that discovery, a private company was hired to sanitize it.

Once that process was complete, Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Joe Murray, a former Hussar and current president of the 1st Hussars Association, along with several others, undertook a more thorough inspection this past August.

Those openings in the Holy Roller, which have also allowed nature to take a toll, were sealed as part of the inspection, which also yielded a number of more pleasant finds.

“We found a couple of wrenches, a sheath knife. It’s remarkably intact inside,” LCol (Retd) Murray said. “There’s still connections for the radio in there, and there’s a sign on the side wall that says ‘canteen.’ It still has the transmission on it. They took out the periscopes, some of the gauges inside. We have those in our regimental museum.”

Veterans from around the London area are undoubtedly happy to see that the Holy Roller’s gun barrel was returned to the angle at which it stood for the dedication.

“When you depress your gun, other than for a salute on a display, it’s a sign of defeat,” said LCol (Retd) Murray. “So a number of people – former armoured officers – got a hold of us and said, ‘Raise that barrel.’”

Corporal (Retired) Perry Kitson, a former member of 4th Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment and a 1st Hussars Association volunteer, was one of the first inside after the Holy Roller was cleaned out and is drafting a report on its condition for the City of London.

A long-time military vehicle enthusiast, Cpl (Retd) Kitson operates a vehicle restoral business and travels to several public events each year with one of his own: a British-built Sexton Self-Propelled Gun.

“For me personally, I see three options for the tank,” he said. “One, something’s done internally to help slow down the decay and it stays in the park as a monument. The second is the tank’s removed from the park, the interior is disassembled properly, sandblasted, primed and painted, and stored indoors where it’s not going to suffer the ravages of the weather. Third option, and what I would like to see happen to it, is it’s restored to running condition and preserved as a living monument to the 1st Hussars and the Canadian military in general.”

LCol (Retd) Murray, who joined the 1st Hussars at age 16, said he enthusiastically embraced its history on various pilgrimages to Normandy, where members travel annually to memorialize those lost on D-Day. He was still a new member in 1971 when another Canadian Sherman tank was dedicated to the regiment, this one dubbed Bold. It was recovered from the English Channel in 1970 and is now displayed on the beach at Courseulles sur-Mer, France.

“I fell in love, I would say, with the regiment and the stories because I went on these pilgrimages with the Veterans who were there,” he said. “I met the guys who did all these wonderful, historic things.”

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