Big-hearted drivers of London’s iconic black cabs are transporting heroes of World War II on the trip of a lifetime, back to the battlegrounds of Normandy, famed for the D-Day landings.
The journey to Northern France will be the last large-scale trip organised by the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans - formerly known as The London Benevolent Association for War Disabled - as the number of veterans from the 1939 – 1945 conflict who are able to travel declines.
Setting off from Horseguards Parade in Central London at 9:45am on Sunday June 4, a convoy of 30 taxis will head out of the capital before joining 60 more cabs coming from across the city, carrying veterans and their families from Portsmouth to Caen.
The first visit for the veterans will be to Pegasus Bridge on Monday June 5 to attend a ceremony at the Memorial Pegasus Museum commemorating the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, when the allied forces began the liberation of mainland Europe from Nazi Germany’s occupation.
The Caen Canal bridge at Bénouville was captured by units of the 6th Airborne Division and was renamed Pegasus Bridge in tribute to the Airborne Forces who wore the emblem of the winged horse on their sleeves.
During the five-day trip, the veterans will also lay wreaths at the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery (CWGC) at Ranville, attend a Royal British Legion Service at Bayeux CWGC and a reception given by the Mayor of Caen at the Town Hall.
Another highlight will be a jump by the Red Devils Army Parachute Display Team into the Merville Battery, accompanied by WWII nonagenarian veterans Fred Glover and Ted Pieri, who undertook the same jump last year to raise money for the Taxi Charity.
“Last year, 64 cabbies took 98 veterans plus volunteers and paramedics to The Menin Gate at Ypres in Belgium and we’ll continue with our annual trip to Worthing, and a programme of events throughout the year but this is the last trip of this size,“ said Dick Goodwin, Vice President of the Taxi Charity Committee.
“Our youngest veterans are now touching 90, so very sadly the numbers that have the stamina and level of fitness for an overseas trip is falling every year.
“There is a great spirit of friendship on our trips and the old chaps and ladies are great fun to be with, we are looking forward to this latest adventure.”
Navy veteran and charity collector, Peter Kent said: “I’ve been on numerous trips with the Taxi Charity and they’re a smashing bunch, we have a wonderful time - it’s the highlight of my year. It will be emotional but we have a lot of laughs too. I’m very grateful for what they do for us.”
Graham Pike, London Taxi driver and member of the charity committee added: “The veterans gave their best years for the freedom that we enjoy today, so it's only right that we cabbies give back our time to them as they grow old. They fought for us and now we will be there for them to help them with a steady hand.
"When these brave men and women travel across Europe in a convoy of iconic London taxis, people line-up at the side of the road to wave and cheer because they know where we are from and what we stand for.
“We never forget the sacrifice of those who didn’t return home.”
Group Captain Mark Heffron, Head of Welfare Policy at the Ministry of Defence, has added his support to the trip: “This event is one of many which The Taxi Charity for Military Veterans has organised, taking veterans back to places where they served together.
“Each time the veterans have the chance to remember, reminisce and mix with others from the same events which shaped our history and ensured our freedom. The Taxi Charity for Military Veterans is unique, utilising their London black cabs and the big hearts of those who give up their time to drive their taxis and look after the veterans.
“Our veterans deserve all our thanks and a good trip; the Taxi Charity provides that for them every time.”
The charity was voted the nation’s favourite voluntary/charity project in the 2016 National Lottery Awards. You can see a video about the charity and the award at www.national-lottery.co.uk/life-changing/project-nlas-london-taxis.
To donate to support the charity's Back to the Beaches trip, visit the website www.taxicharity.org/donations.