This year the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans embarked on one of its most ambitious projects: to take up to 150 World War 2 veterans over to Normandy from 4th-8th June for D Day.
Given the great age of these survivors this was likely to be the last opportunity for such a large-scale trip with survivors of this particular conflict.
The charity contacted all kinds of organisations in order to reach as many veterans as possible, and in the end we had responses from all over the UK.
Finding the necessary funding to make this trip was challenging but it came from an extraordinarily wide range of sources.
Our loyal collectors stepped up to the plate as always, standing tirelessly at underground and mainline stations with collection buckets and the Soldiers’ Charity (ABF) and Libor gave us substantial grants.
All the orgs and main taxi-related businesses played their part in sponsoring cabs and we had an eclectic mix of other supporters – Mayfair art galleries, violin dealers, including one from Boston USA and another from New York, antique dealers and even a fashionable hairdresser.
This generosity not only underlines the respect held for our veterans, but also the admiration so many hold for the black cab trade.
And it was the cab drivers themselves who also shone, offering to sponsor cabs and backing me when I did a tandem jump for the charity with the Red Devils. You are all absolute stars.
And so to the trip itself.
The appalling events at London Bridge cast a shadow over our departure, and it was a testament to the reputation of the cab trade that we were still permitted to have about 20 cabs leaving London from Horseguards the following morning.
The police and the military could not have been more helpful and we were allowed to leave through the arch, an honour normally reserved for the Royal family.
At Portsmouth we were seen off by the Lord Mayor and accompanied out of the harbour by tugs spraying their hoses in V formation and the crews of the warships saluted us as we passed.
There was a small service and wreath laying in memory of those that lost their lives at sea.
On arrival in Normandy our impressive convoy of nearly one hundred vehicles was escorted by motorbike outriders who did a terrific job throughout the entire visit, holding up the traffic as we whizzed through red lights.
The next morning we set off to Memorial Pegasus and Pegasus Bridge in Benouville. There was another service and wreath laying at the museum and four of our veterans received their Legions d’Honneur after the service.
At Ranville we were given lunch in the presence of the Mayor and the British Military Attache Col. Chris Borneman.
Unfortunately the weather was so wild that evening that it was deemed unwise for the veterans to attend the midnight celebrations at Pegasus Bridge.
On D Day itself one small group of veterans attended the Royal British Legion service at Bayeux Cathedral while most of us joined the Legion’s Remembrance Service at the Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery.
This was a particularly moving service as we watched these frail and very elderly people struggle determinedly to their feet for the National Anthem and make it bravely up to the monument to lay their wreaths.
They all looked so dignified with their medals, and the drivers of course were very smartly turned out to show their respects: it made me terribly proud to be part of it.
The nuns at the Convent of la Joie Saint Benoit (where the injured during the Normandy landings were tended) gave us all a splendid lunch and we finished the day at a Mayoral reception at the Caen Town Hall where three more of our veterans received the Legion d’Honneur.
The Union and French flags were flown at half mast as a mark of respect to the London Bridge and Manchester victims.
The trip to the Merville Battery the next day had been keenly anticipated as the Red Devils were expected to do a display. Sadly the weather let us down, but at the very end of the day the winds dropped sufficiently to allow four French parachutists to jump in our honour.
We had a wonderful time there, joining the Commando Service, exploring the bunkers and letting our imaginations attempt to picture the incredible achievement of 150 paratroopers in 1944.
Back at the hotel for a celebratory dinner in the presence of the Mayor of Ouistreham, it seemed incredible that the trip was drawing to a close.
However even the final day was eventful.
First the convoy headed to the Caen Memorial Museum where some of the veterans answered students’ questions. The others were mobbed by schoolchildren and adults alike.
The Museum has the most beautiful gardens of remembrance for each of the Normandy landings nations that are well worth a visit.
Following a light lunch we made for Sword Beach, which was a fitting end to a marvellous trip. It was a very contented group that headed back to the ferry.
It is impossible to describe the welcome we received wherever we went. The esteem in which our veterans are held by Normandy’s residents was breathtaking.
Everyone from schoolchildren to the elderly wanted to talk to them, take photographs and shake their hands. It was incredibly moving.
The cabs were cheered and applauded as was and is their due. The press coverage in Britain was fantastic. To all those involved, in whatever way, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Frances Luczyc Wyhowska Vice-President Taxi Charity for Military Veterans