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Derek's Blog: Liberators Diary - 2 to 6 May 2015

The Taxi Charity's Assistant Secretary and Press Officer, Derek Leone, shares his diary from the recent trip to Arnhem (2 - 6 May 2015).

Saturday 2 May 2015

At approx. 5pm, a number of taxis with their veterans began leaving The Union Jack Club in Waterloo for the journey to The Parkeston Railway Club in Harwich, and also to meet up with the rest of the taxis that had picked up their passengers from their homes. During the time at the club, the veterans made use of the bar and entertainment came from The Colchester Band.

(The Taxi Charity committee would like to thank Fiona and the staff for all their hard work on the day).

At 8:30pm, the taxis began to embark on the ferry for the night crossing to Holland.

Sunday 3 May 2015

After an early morning call over the ship's tannoy system, just like Butlins, everybody made their way to the cafeteria for breakfast. The captain of the ferry allowed us to leave the ship last and arriving on the quayside we were met by The Dutch National Police. Passport control was quickly dealt with and soon we were on our way to The Bronbeek Hospital and Museum.

During the journey from the Hook of Holland, the police escorting us held all the traffic back on the motorway so that nobody could overtake us. We were later informed that this is only usually allowed when the King and Queen of the Netherlands are travelling or in our case Very Important Pensioners!

On arriving at The Bronbeek Hospital, which has about 80 ex-servicemen, and is very much like the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the veterans were escorted from the taxis by members of the Dutch army and made their way into the dining room where a buffet lunch awaited. The Mayor of Arnhem, Mr Herman Kaiser, then made a speech in which he welcomed everybody and thanked the veterans for what they did 70 years ago in liberating the Netherlands.

All too soon it was time to leave The Bronbeek Hospital to make our way to The Hartenstein Airborne Museum at Oosterbeek. Although it was raining, it did not deter people from waving and cheering the taxis as they made their way to the museum. On arriving at the museum, the taxis were continually stopped on the drive through the crowds so the people could shake hands with the veterans. Once the veterans left the taxis, they made their way round the grounds of the museum and headed for the tea tent, all the while talking with the visitors. Time flew once again and soon it was time to leave and make our way to the hotel.

We arrived at the Papendal Hotel in Arnhem and with the assistance of the hotel staff, the check-in was quickly completed and everybody made their way to the rooms. In the evening, everybody enjoyed a three course meal and entertainment was provided by a male voice choir.

Monday 4 May 2015

The hotel began serving breakfast at 7am. At 9:20am, the veterans began to get into the taxis and at 9:45 the convoy started to leave the hotel with a police escort to make our way to Groesbeek Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, which is dedicated to Canadian servicemen.

At 11am, a British Military Service was held which was conducted by the Rev. George Parsons. The last post was sounded and 2 minute's silence held. Taxi Charity Chairman, Gary Belsey, then laid a wreath on behalf of the charity. This was followed by the Vice Chairman, David Hempstead, Secretary, Paul Davis, and Treasurer ,Michael Husk, all accompanied by three veterans, laying wreaths for Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and The Army.

Veterans then laid their own individual tributes whilst in the distance could be heard the piper.

After the ceremony, we made our way to The National Liberation Museum Groesbeek for lunch and entertainment and also to meet with Canadian students and veterans. Thankfully the weather was kind to us and everybody enjoyed themselves. At approx. 3:30pm, the veterans made their way to the taxis for the return journey to the hotel for a buffet dinner before leaving for the remembrance services that evening.

At 6:30pm, the group was split into three smaller groups to attend services at Arnhem Town Hall, Oosterbeek Town Hall or at a small cemetery in Heteren. All the services were attended by local residents and the Taxi Charity committee and veterans laid wreaths. On returning to the Papendal, drinks and hot snacks were served.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

After breakfast on Tuesday morning, Arnhem veterans and their carers left the Papendal by coach for a Dutch Service at The Airborne Memorial Oosterbeek at 10am. At about 10:30am, the committee was informed that a severe weather warning had been issued and that it could cause a problem with the parade that we were due to attend. At 11:45am, four coaches arrived at the hotel and a decision was made to go to the parade in Wageningen, with four taxis - one with a union flag livery and the other three in red, white and blue scheduled to be in the parade.

Having arrived in the town, everybody started to make their way to the tea and beer tents. Soon the rain began and it developed into a thunderstorm with strong winds which showed no sign of easing. By now the veterans were soaking wet and due to their age, the Taxi Charity Chairman made a decision to put everybody back on the coaches and return to the hotel. On arriving back at the hotel, hot drinks were provided.

At 7:30pm, everybody made their way into the dining area of the hotel for the evening meal. During the meal, we were entertained by barber shop singers who stopped at various tables to sing to those seated there. After the meal, a group of musicians dressed in 1940's style American uniforms entertained us with music from the forties. One of the veterans, Danny McCrudden, then joined with the band to sing some popular songs.

Chairman Gary Belsey then asked for all the drivers to make their way onto the stage where they all received a gift of a hip flask engraved with details of the trip. He also thanked all the collectors who go out to stations and other venues with buckets and collect donations for the trip. The evening then continued with drinking and singing.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Wednesday morning breakfast was served from 7am and afterwards a small presentation was made to the Dutch National Police as a thank you for the work in escorting us over the few days that we were there. All the officers volunteered to do this escorting - one of them told me it was their way of thanking the veterans for what they did.

A group photograph of all the veterans was taken outside the hotel.

At 10 am it was time to leave for the journey back to the Hook of Holland for the afternoon ferry at 2:30 pm.

Having gone through passport control, we all boarded the ferry and made our way to the restaurant and bar. At 3pm, the Captain slowed the ferry so that we could hold a short service of remembrance which was read by Rev. George Parsons and wreaths of poppies were thrown over the side of the ferry. Due to the high wind, these wreaths remained aloft for some time before settling on the sea.

A group photo of the drivers was taken at the end of the service.

At 6pm dinner was served and by the time everybody had finished, the ferry was approaching Harwich. Having docked, all the cabs and support vehicles made their own way to various locations throughout London and some further away.

The President, Chairman, Officers and Committee of The London Taxi Benevolent Association for War Disabled would like to thank all the veterans who have collected donations in stations.

Also Bernie Waterson and his family, Chris Hearndon of Camberfield Taxis and the 80 taxi drivers.

Ladies and gents - we say it every time but without you giving up your time we could not undertake outings like this.

We'd also like to thank paramedics John and Elizabeth Stubbs and Gary and Penny Extence.

Our thanks also to Kenny Flemwell (Spanners) and his breakdown team, London Taxis International, Long Lane Cab Centre, LTDA, Royal British Legion, Hero's Return, all the garages that allowed drivers to take rented taxis on the trip, and insurance companies Tradex, Quotex, and Emrose.

Also Millwall Football Club and The National Dutch Police, and Stena Line for their assistance; Land Rover Bicester, Morrison's Supermarket Harwich, P.J. Hayman Group and Barclay's Bank Cheam.

Derek Leone Hon PRO


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