"Holy Roller's Hero" ~ London Free Press ~ May 11, 2006

Holy Roller Tank

The mystery of who shepherded the Holy Roller Sherman tank from Europe to Canada is solved.

Credit war hero Captain Proctor Clifford Neil, after whom a military maintenance building was dedicated at Wolseley Barracks yesterday.

Neil, unsung in these parts until now, played a key supporting role during D-Day, one of the most pivotal operations of the Second World War. Neil was commanding officer of 54 Light Aid Detachment, Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, attached to the First Hussars -- a London unit -- when he landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Captain Neil's Military Cross Award

He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in the North-West Europe Campaign: Under heavy fire in a boggy minefield, Neil and his men recovered 51 tanks. One of those was the Holy Roller, a 29-tonne Sherman tank, believed to be the only one from its regiment that made it all the way from D-Day through France, Belgium and Holland into Germany.

The specific "how" of the Holly Roller's migration may well be lost to history, except for some veterans' oblique references. Until yesterday, the "who" of the recovery was known only to a few, said D.C. Bondy, a member of the First Hussars Museum Committee.

"I don't know that I can tell you details" of how Neil tracked it down and arranged for its passage to Canada, Neil's son, Tim Neil of Niagara Falls, said yesterday. "I think they actually smuggled it out."

It stands in Victoria Park as tribute to the First Hussars. And the new, $17.5 million Capt. Proctor Clifford Neil building pays tribute at Wolseley Barracks to all those who serve and served in support roles with the Canadian Forces. "He would be humbled by this," Tim Neil said.

Only three weeks ago, Tim and his older brother, Stephen Neil of Brightlingsea, England, were asked if they would lend their father's name to the building. "It came from just out of the blue," said Tim Neil.

Brig. Gen. Guy Thibault, commander of Task Force Central, said Neil "represents the best of what Canadian Forces represent."

Proctor Clifford Neil returned from the war to become an engineer and worked into his 70s. He died in 1991 in Niagara Falls. Neil didn't talk much about his war experiences, except when war buddies came to visit.

"He pulled out 51 tanks that were under fire," Tim Neil said. "I asked, 'Were you scared?' He said, 'I didn't have time. I had to get them out.' "

~ By Debora Van Brenk, London Free Press Reporter