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. Despite being in his nineties, Fred makes regular trips back to France, thanks to the Taxi Charity, which has received some £65,000 from the National Lottery’s Heroes Return scheme to support its veterans’ trips. Earlier this summer, Fred decided to raise money himself for the “astonishing” project, undertaking a sponsored skydive down to the Merville Battery. “It made my day,” he says. “We’re very thankful to the taxi drivers who give their time.” Victor Crofton, who between 1950 and 1955 saw active service in Egypt, Kenya and Cyprus, agrees. “They’re brilliant,” he says, “absolutely brilliant.” Victor raises money for the charity by taking a collection pot to railway stations in London, standing for hours, despite the leg injuries he suffered in Kenya while fighting the Mau Mau uprising in 1954. Driving through dense jungle at night, his lorry was shot out from under him, and man and machine tumbled down a 100-foot cliff. Victor’s legs were crushed, but miraculously he survived. “I was very lucky,” he says. For their part, the taxi drivers speak of their gratitude to the old boys (and one or two girls) who, back in the dancing room, are now belting out a chorus of Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner, a song written as German doodlebugs pounded the capital in the darkest days of the Second World War. “These guys have given everything for us,” says Carlos Oliveira, 59, one of three cab driver brothers, along with Salverio, 56, and Roberto 53, who have been involved with the Taxi Charity for more than two decades. “You can’t go through life and keep taking. You have to give something back.” The veterans, the drivers find, remain as sharp as ever. Carlos recalls meeting Prince Charles on the Mall with a group of on September 12 veterans on July 7, 2005 – the day of the 7/7 terror attacks on London. “When that bomb went off in Russell Square, we had veterans with us who were saying, ‘Did you hear that, Harry?’, and, ‘Yeah… that’s a bomb.’ “These boys are in their eighties and nineties and recognised the device that blew up in Russell Square from the Mall. They were spot on. That was amazing.” As for Fred, he heads back to the party, where the buffet has more cheese sandwiches than the other veterans know what to do with.