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Taxi Charity in the press: Evening Standard, 15 August 2015

'The least we can do': Hundreds of London cabbies give up day's fares to take veterans to and from VJ Day celebrations

Hundreds of generous London taxi drivers have given up a day's fares to ferry war veterans to and from today's VJ Day celebrations in central London free of charge.

The shuttle service, which has been running between Whitehall and all the capital's major National Rail stations since early this morning, was organised by the Taxi Charity - full name the London Taxi Benevolent Association for War Disabled.

About 800 veterans, arriving by train from across the country, were expected to make use of it. Marshalls from the charity were stationed at each terminus to direct war heroes to the taxi ranks where they would be given a free ride to the VJ Day celebrations - marking 70 years since Japan surrendered.

Taxi driver Dave Hemstead, the charity's vice chairman, told the Standard he was missing part of his daughter's 21st birthday to help out.

"It's just something you need to do," he said.

"About six years ago there was an advert in the trade papers for drivers to help with the charity's annual trip down to Worthing - and I've been doing it ever since.

"It's just something I like doing. It's costing me an absolute fortune in lost wages, but it's great - I love doing it, and the veterans are so nice.

"They're not going to last forever - even in the six years I've been around the faces I've seen have gone - and I'm just happy to be helping them where I can."

Asked if he had a military history of his own, he said: "I did a little bit in the army. My grandfather was in the First World War and my father did National Service."

Although only veterans who hold the Burma Star and Pacific Star are involved in today's procession, the charity is taking men and women who served in other conflicts to watch.

Veteran Danny McCrudden, who served with the Royal Navy’s Pacific Fleet, said he was "very excited" about today's ceremony. "I didn't know if there was to be a celebration until recently," he said. "People ask me about VE Day and what I was doing then. ‘Still fighting’ is what I tell them - the next day we were attacked by Kamikazes and we lost 35 men on one ship."

Charity committee member Dennis Hayes added: "The veterans who fought in the Far East and Pacific campaigns in many cases gave five years of their lives for our future. A lot of their comrades and mates never made it home either dying in battle, through disease or at the hands of the Japanese in their prison and forced labour camps. They all had a terrible time of it and became known as the Forgotten Army.

"When we think what these men and women went through for us, it's the least I can do to give up a few hours of time this Saturday to support them."

As well as taking veterans to Worthing each year, the Taxi Charity also organises bigger trips - such as this year's visit to Holland to commemorate the Liberation of Arnhem in 1945. Eighty London taxi drivers gave up a weekend in May to take heroes on the "emotional" pilgrimage.

The Prince of Wales and Prime Minister David Cameron joined hundreds of veterans on Horse Guards Parade for a Drumhead commemoration.

Royal Marine buglers and percussionists from Portsmouth piled up their drums to form a ceremonial altar at the centre of the parade, replicating the practise used by troops on the front line.

Crowds applauded as a Dakota, Hurricane and a current RAF Typhoon fighter jet flew past in tribute to the sacrifice made by thousands of Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Second World War.

The Right Reverend Nigel Stock, bishop to HM Armed Forces, led the service and paid particular tribute to those who served in the Far East who played a pivotal role in Japan's defeat.

Viscount Slim, the son of Field Marshal Slim, read a passage from his father's memoir Defeat Into Victory.

He read: "To the soldiers of many races who, in the comradeship of the 14th Army, did go on, and to the airmen who flew with them and fought with them and fought over them, belongs the true of achievement.

"It was they who turned defeat into victory."

The veterans and their families, with current force members, sang the hymns Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Abide with Me and Guide Me O'Thou Great Redeemer with the Gwalia Male Voice Choir and the London Welsh Male Voice Choi.

Actor Charles Dance read Rudyard Kipling's 'Mandalay' - a favourite marching tune for many in the 14th Army in Burma, commanded by Field Marshal Lord Slim during the campaign.

Prince Charles, David Cameron, the chairman of the Burma Star Association John Giddings and the chairman of the Royal British Legion, laid wreaths by the Drumhead, while Camilla, dressed in mint green, watched from the royal box.

A message from Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma - daughter of Earl Mountbatten - was read in which she added her "warmest wishes" to the veterans gathered.

Lance Corporal Amar Pun from the 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles performed Flowers of the Forest as the Lone Piper.

The veterans from the Far East Campaign, their families and descendants, along with current personnel, are parading down Whitehall to Westminster Abbey - passing the statue of Field Marshal Slim - led by pipes and drums.

Earlier today a service of commemoration was held at St Martin-in-the-fields Church, with the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Edward and the Prime Minister in attendance.


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