Hello again all you taxi troopers! Fast Eddie, your vice president, reporting in with a round-up of events over the last six months.
At the time of my last update in January, the committee was still considering our plans for 2016 and nothing was certain.
As you are now aware, an awful lot has transpired since then, thanks to the hard work of the committee, the collectors, our taxi drivers and everyone who has contributed to our events throughout the last six months.
February and March were quiet on the events scene, but behind the scenes, committee members were working away diligently, putting plans together, organising recce trips, arranging transportation, booking hotels and doing the thousand and one things that are necessary to keep the taxi charity active, financially sound and able to follow our aims and objectives to look after our veterans.
Our collectors, all veterans themselves, were also working hard. In February/ March, four collections took place: two at Canary Wharf and two at Liverpool St. As usual our boys turned up trumps, fetching in much needed funds to keep us going.
In March, our events officer, Dick Goodwin, organised a really good evening meal, entertainment and singsong at the Worppell pub in Ware. Some members of the committee attended, and a whole bunch of veterans enjoyed a lovely evening. Some veterans, because of location, and the time factor, were put up at a local hotel overnight.
Again in March, Dick organised for our veterans to attend the Metropolitan Police passing-out parade at Hendon Police College. A number of our veterans attended and transportation was arranged as necessary. One of our collecting team, Tom Schaffer, was honoured to take the salute, alongside the Metropolitan commissioner of police. The event was really enjoyed by our veterans.
In April, we were invited along to 'An Evening Of Music & Laughter' by the London Ex-boxer's Association, held in Hampstead. Dick Goodwin/ Barking Bill/ Paul Davis/ Francis Wyhowska/ Graham Pike/ Aaron Capell, Ian Parsons and myself, went along to represent our committee and, together with a whole group of veterans, to share in an evening of music and laughter. Needless to say there were singers and comedians, and an excellent piano player who entertained us. We enjoyed light refreshments and a very pleasant evening was had by all.
In May, the committee, after all the preparation and planning earlier in the year, got our visit to Ypres in Belgium under way. Our great group of taxi drivers picked up our veterans from all over London and then transported them down to Dover and onto the cross channel ferry to France. On board, we fed and watered our entire group of 68 taxi drivers and 98 veterans plus helpers. On arrival in France, we lined up our convoy of 68 London taxis and travelled through France to the Belgian border, where we were met by the Belgium police who provided us with a motorcycle escort to our destination at Ypres. After settling in at our hotel and making our veterans comfortable, we made our way to the magnificent medieval building, Cloth Hall, where we enjoyed a wonderful meal and a great evening, before we returned to our hotel and retired for the night.
The second day, after breakfast, we loaded up our troops and travelled to the Passchendale Museum to see the battlefields and trenches which saw some of the fiercest fighting battles of World War I. Following this, we visited the huge Tyne Cot Cemetery. There are 12,000 soldiers interned here of whom 8,500 are unnamed. Around the cemetery, on the enclosing walls, are the names of 35,000 British Empire troops who fell on the battlefields around Ypres. This was a very emotional visit, with many of our veterans having members of their family named on the monument.
We returned to our hotel and prepared to attend the evening ceremony of remembrance at the Menin Gate. This is a service of remembrance that takes place every evening at 8pm at the monument dedicated to the tens of thousands of men that passed along this very road on their way to the front line of the battlefields in World War I. Every evening, a trumpeter plays The Last Post. It is a very moving ceremony. Looking around at our assembled veterans, I could see that many were thinking of comrades that had fallen alongside of them in their own battles of the Second World War; there was sadness in their eyes.
Our chairman and veterans laid wreaths on the monument.
On the third day, we again loaded our troops and travelled to a Belgian military barracks. We saw a special unit presenting a drill parade and a medal presentation ceremony took place. All our veterans very much enjoyed this event and we were provided with a splendid meal afterwards.
We then made our way on the return journey across Belgium and France to the dock at Calais, onto the ferry and back to England.
The taxi drivers did a wonderful job of looking after our veterans and returning them to their homes, all I might add, at no cost to the charity except the cost of fuel for their vehicles. Well done, you cabbies. I am proud to be a retired London taxi driver, and connected to this bunch of warmhearted men.
In the meantime our collecting team of vets were doing their thing which they do so well. During April/May, another five collections took place at Blackfriars, Waterloo, Millwall FC, Kings Cross and Liverpool St, which helped no end to pay for our trip to Ypres.
In June, our annual trip to Worthing took place. This was a large event. Four hundred veterans and invited guests plus sponsors together with one hundred and thirty London taxis and drivers took part. As usual, all the taxis with veterans made their way to South Holmwood village where we stop en-route to Worthing. The residents of the village always give us a very warm welcome; they entertain us and lay on light refreshments. It is a welcome break on our journey that our veterans look forward to each year. We then continue our journey to the Sussex coastal town.
For the second year running, we had our gathering at the Pier Conference Centre. This venue has proved to be a resounding success. Our veterans and guests have the opportunity to take a stroll along the promenade before lunch and take in the bracing sea air.
After a hearty lunch, the veterans were treated to entertainment by various performers which we all enjoyed. We then held a giant raffle - well we have raise some money to pay the bill! By teatime we were ready for the return journey home. Many of the taxis stop once again at South Holmwood on the return journey for a short break, a drink or two and a general singsong. A lot of the vets however decided they had had enough for one day - remember most of them are in their early nineties - so they headed straight home.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the residents of South Holmwood village, who look after our veterans so well, year after year, and help us to make the day special.
Early in June, our events officer Dick Goodwin, our transport officer Barking Bill and myself made a recce trip down to East Sussex, to the Bluebell vintage railway at Sheffield Park. The result of this was a lovely day out for our veterans on the hottest day of the year on 19 July.
Once again, our taxi drivers picked up our veterans from their homes around London and transported them to East Sussex. After some light refreshments at Sheffield Park, we all boarded a vintage steam train and took a lovely ride through the Sussex countryside to East Grinstead. On the return journey, we stopped at Kingscote station where adjacent to the platform is a lovely picnic area. We had a mobile kitchen set up and we all enjoyed a splendid lunch, basking in the glorious sunshine.
Whilst we were having our lunch, an old friend of the veterans, Cass, who has sung at many of our events in the past, entertained us with all the old wartime favourites, which our veterans love and they all joined in singing. After lunch we rejoined the train back to Sheffield Park, the taxi drivers gathered up the veterans and returned them safely back to London.
A big thank you to all the staff on the Bluebell railway that helped to make this a memorable event, specially the steam train driver, to whom I presented a pair of cufflinks depicting on them an image of the Flying Scotsman steam train, with which he was delighted. This small gift was courtesy of one of our regular collectors Tom Willoughby who provided the cufflinks. Thank you, Tom. It was a very thoughtful gesture.
Needless to say, thanks yet again to our taxi drivers for providing the transportation at no cost to the charity and looking after our veterans in their usual professional manner.
Meanwhile our veteran collectors continued to provide the necessary finance, which enables us to organise and provide our many events. In June and July, they made three more collections at Liverpool St, Blackfriars and Victoria stations. Again well done, lads. Around June/July time, nominations were being made by the National Lottery, to find the best charity/ voluntary organisation for lottery good causes.
A lot of work behind the scenes was carried out by our committee officers. Meetings and a great deal of liaison work were carried out with Cobseo/ The National Lottery/ The Royal Hospital Chelsea and the BBC, in order to present ourselves as a good potential organisation, to be considered for the award.
Well I am glad to say all the hard work paid off and we found our charity shortlisted with six other contenders, and eventually we were voted by the general public as the best voluntary/ charity organisation for a National Lottery Award. The award gives our charity a prize of £3,000, but the real prize is the public awareness and publicity for our charity, which is priceless.
Thanks to the all the committee officers who did their job so well to bring about this great result and a special pat on the back to Dick Goodwin, Barking Bill, Frances Wyhowska, Graham Pike, Ian Parsons and Aaron Capell. Remember - all these people are volunteers!
As a result of winning the award, we held a summer tea party at The Royal Hospital Chelsea on 26 August. What a great success this was. I think the best event of the year so far.
The celebrity presenter, Katie Derham, came along to present the award. Present were lots of our veterans, representatives of the National Lottery, officers of the committee, Janet Hodgson who is a good friend of our charity who fetched the dancing group “Swing Patrol” to entertain us and provide dancing partners for our veterans. Our patron, Sir Adrian Johns, came along to join in the fun, together with BBC camera crew and event staff.
The afternoon started with refreshments and drinks, provided by the National Lottery in the magnificent state apartments. The accommodation was provided by The Royal Hospital Chelsea free of charge and a stage was set up for the performers in the main room.
Our veterans were soon on the dance floor showing an enthusiasm and energy which belied their advanced years, many being well over 90. A lovely female singing group, The D-Day Darlings, dressed in wartime WAFF uniforms were introduced. They sang many 1940s popular songs that went down really well with our veterans.
Before we knew it, the place was really jumping. Danny McCrudden, our veteran singer, was serenading Katie Derham, who was quite impressed by his talent and the way things were swinging along.
It did not take long before the whole group of veterans were singing their hearts out. They sung a special favourite - If You Were The Only Girl In The World - to Katie Derham. It was a really lovely event; it was so nice to see the veterans really enjoying themselves.
The whole event was filmed by the BBC, and formed part of the “official” Lottery Awards programme which was recorded on Friday 9 September and shown on BBC One on Monday 12 September.
Many people do many things to support their charities. Among those things they do are parachute jumps. There's nothing very unusual about that OR IS THERE!
In this case there is. Two of our veterans, both 90 years old, Fred Glover and Ted Pieri, made two parachute jumps each to raise funds for the Taxi Charity: one into the Merville Battery, an original battle site of World War II, in Normandy, France and the other one with the Red Devils display team in Salisbury. They raised over £4,000! What a great effort by these two gentlemen. Believe me, as an 80-year-old ex-paratrooper myself, what they did was quite something, and not to be undertaken lightly, especially at their age. Well done Fred and Ted.
It's not too late to make a donation: