Meet the London cabbies taking war veterans on tailormade trips, The Telegraph

It is time for celebration at the Royal Chelsea Hospital. Wartime classics float around a handsome, wood-panelled room, as three smiling singers – all dressed in blue, with hair pinned back smartly, looking for all the world like a trio of Wrens – entertain an audience of veterans. Many were wounded in action during the Second World War, but need little persuasion to join the knees-up on the dancefloor. Dotted among the veterans are dozens of taxi drivers, and the two groups know each other well: the cabbies are part of a charity whose mission is to take veterans on outings as far afield as the battlefields of Normandy and Arnhem. And it is the charity’s success that they are toasting today, with a tea dance at the home of the Chelsea Pensioners. The London Taxi Benevolent Association, set up in the aftermath of the Second World War in 1947, has been crowned the best voluntary project in Britain in the annual National Lottery Awards. Next week, the Taxi Charity, as it is more simply known these days, will be handed a £3,000 “bonus” prize at the televised awards ceremony. The money will go towards next year’s trip to Normandy, when 90 cabbies will take 150 veterans on a four-day tour, the highlight of which will be a Spitfire flyover. Fred Glover, like all the ex-soldiers at the dance, has known much harder times. He thinks back to the day he left for Germany: his mother offered to make him sandwiches as if he were going on a school trip, rather than help defeat Hitler. “I didn’t realise the emotions she’d kept wrapped up. She probably went away and cried her eyes out. And it must have taken a month of cheese rations to get the sandwiches together.” Within a few months, Fred found himself preparing for the D-Day invasion. As a member of the 9th Parachute Battalion, he was one of the 600 men tasked with taking out the gun battery at Merville, Normandy. On the day, only 150 men managed to land there, and Fred, riding a glider, was not one of them. Hit by anti-aircraft fire, he came down in an orchard nearby – which made him one of the lucky ones. With wounds to his legs, he was deputed to guard two German prisoners, one of whom had taken a bullet to the stomach and was in agony. Fred gave him some morphine, a small act of kindness he believes may have saved his life. When a German patrol came upon the three men and seized Fred, who still had his weapons on him, he could have been shot. But a word in someone’s ear from the wounded German meant that, instead, he was taken to hospital in Paris.