2018 has been a red letter year for the charity, and we are only halfway through so far. This is our 70th anniversary and therefore we have been even more active than usual.
In January the charity hosted a lunch for our volunteer collectors, many of whom are in their 90s, at the RAF Club. Over the years they have stood in windswept underground and railway stations and at football matches, with buckets, barely flagging as they chat happily to members of the public. It is an amazing experience to watch them, and of course they collect many thousands of pounds for us during each year. For most of them this has become an important social event: it gets them away from what is often a lonely existence – many of them are widowers – so they all look forward to the collections, and of course a jolly pub lunch!
In February the charity revisited the pub where it was founded 70 years ago by three cab drivers – the Bedford Arms in Fulham. This was only the beginning.
April saw a fund-raising golf day at Cuddington Golf Club in Surrey. This was a popular event: the members gave generously and everyone enjoyed dinner afterwards with the opportunity of meeting a couple of dozen veterans. As usual volunteer cab drivers came into their own, willingly ferrying the veterans to and fro.
Hot on the heels of the golf, from 2-6 May we headed off to Arnhem to take part in Dutch Liberation day commemorations. Around 25 cabs took part and I can honestly say that this was a momentous trip. The warmth of the welcome that the veterans and cabs receive from the Dutch is absolutely exceptional. Everything is special. The British Defence Attache, Colonel James Phillips, met us at the ferry and he also joined us all at dinner on the last evening. The police escorted our convoy to the hotel and everywhere we went the Dutch people waved and cheered. But of course we were there for serious purposes and watching the veterans paying their respects to the dead at the Oosterbeek cemetery was incredibly moving. The cemetery is beautifully kept, the sky was blue, and brightly coloured azaleas and rhododendrons surrounded the whole area. The overall atmosphere was other-wordly, poignant but beautiful. I was proud to be there. The focal point of the visit was the veterans’ parade through Arnhem: the Dutch turn out in huge numbers, adults and children alike, to thank these elderly liberators. They will never forget.
A few days later there was a change in tempo when the charity made a two day visit to the Royal Naval Dockyards at Portsmouth. Over 60 taxis took part in this trip with countless veterans, including a number from Headley Court and Blesma. Visits to the Mary Rose, the HMS Victory and a boat trip of the harbour were among the varied entertainments and spirits ran high. An unexpected bonus was bumping into a group of Russian veterans who were on a tour. Even more extraordinary was the moment that one of our veterans recognised one of the Russians after all these years. Another special moment.
Just in case you are thinking that the charity has been idling away its time we were in Normandy from 4th-8th June for D Day commemorations. 18 cabs took the veterans on this trip. Some of us met the British Ambassador to France at Bayeux Cathedral who knew about the charity expressed his admiration for its work which was good to hear. The service at Bayeux was magnificent and the cabs caused a real stir as we were ceremoniously waved through the road blocks by the police to park right by the cathedral itself. For me the most moving part of the trip was at a small cemetery at Grangues, outside Caen, where the veterans laid personal wreaths. Watching the determination with which they stood to attention and helped each other was a sight that caused more than a few tears amongst us all.
A few days after our return saw the charity’s annual trip to Worthing and this year 85 cabs took part. Headley Court played an active part in this trip and there was a broad range of ages among the veterans attending. As always, the villagers of South Holmwood gave us a marvellous reception en route for Worthing, as they have done since the very beginning.
So that is the year so far. But there is more to come. Another smaller visit to Arnhem, a trip to the site of the Battle of Waterloo where we are linking up with another military charity, a trip to Blenheim with Chelsea Pensioners and a celebratory evening at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in the Autumn. On top of this the charity does all manner of small helpful acts for our veterans, often arranging for veteran pickups at stations for regimental association reunions etc.
I cannot state too strongly how wonderful the cab trade is in the way that drivers volunteer for us and how beautifully they look after the veterans. I am really honoured to be part of it.
I have left until last some news about an imminent fund-raising event and I am unashamedly hoping for your support. On 26th July, four cab drivers, (Mickey Calvey, Jon Southcott, Brian Heffernan and Dean Euseden), a Korean War veteran (Bill Parr), a Chelsea Pensioner (Mike Smith) and I will be doing tandem parachute jumps with the Red Devils in aid of the charity. We are calling ourselves Team Be Lucky and it takes place (weather permitting) at the Langar Airfield near Nottingham. If you would like to sponsor us please have a look at our website or leave something with Tony at the Astral Cafe, or contact me direct. Thank you very much in advance and thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you have found it interesting.
Frances Luczyc Wyhowska, Vice-President,
Taxi Charity for Military Veterans