Thank you to The Cab Driver newspaper for including an excellent article by Taxi Charity Vice Chairman, Ian Parsons, about our recent veterans' trip to the Netherlands.
Here's Ian's article in full:
On 2nd May, the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans organised a five-day trip to the Netherlands involving 19 volunteer London taxi drivers.
The main objective was to enable 35 veterans (mainly WWII, including eight Battle of Arnhem) to once again participate in the country's National Liberation Day celebrations.
We assembled at Harwich before taking the overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland and after disembarking, were met by our police escort, whose help throughout our stay would prove to be invaluable.
Our first stop was at the Dutch Royal Marine Barracks in Rotterdam. where we were warmly greeted by Lt. Col. Posthumus.
A short speech about the barracks history by the Commander was followed by some classic 1940s wartime music, provided by the Marine's Pipes and Drums band, which got everyone swinging along.
After lunch, we bid our hosts farewell and headed to our hotel in Wageningen.
The next morning (4th May - Remembrance Day) we visited Reichswald Forest War Cemetery in Kleve, just over the border in Germany.
A sudden and dramatic change in the weather occurred shortly after we arrived. Dark clouds replaced blue skies bringing torrential rain and hailstones.
However, there was never going to be any suggestion of leaving, so we all took cover and waited for the storm to pass.
Reichswald is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in Germany and contains the remains of over 7,500 WWII servicemen.
This was a particularly emotional visit for those veterans who had never previously had the opportunity to come here enabling them to visit the graves of their fallen comrades and pay tribute to the young men who lost their lives in the fight for freedom.
On 10th February 1945, Rifleman Henry ‘Harry’ Rawlings (‘C’ Company, 12th Bn. King’s Royal Rifle Corps) was positioned in a ditch by a hedgerow near Reichswald Forest. Harry’s platoon commander, Lieutenant Michael Howe Hewlett, was checking his men.
“How are the boys?” Harry asked his commander. “I’m just going to see…” At that moment a sniper’s bullet hit 20-year-old Lieutenant Hewlett in the head, killing him instantly. Harry blamed himself for delaying his officer. Let us hope Harry’s opportunity to finally visit his commanding officer's grave provided him with some comfort.
All present gathered together to hear mezzo-soprano Emma Brown sing, “I vow to thee my country,” before returning to the taxis for the short drive back across the border to Roepaen and lunch in the 17th century monastery, now a cultural centre.
From here, whilst some returned to the hotel, others - particularly our Airborne veterans - were driven to Arnhem Oosterbeek Cemetery.
One veteran explained that, "no trip to the Netherlands would be right unless it included a visit to this cemetery.”
Later that evening we attended an open-air remembrance service at Heteren War Cemetery. Blankets were supplied for the veterans as it was unseasonably cold - but no one complained.
Perhaps they had been reading the order of service which stated that on 23rd September 1944, three British aeroplanes crashed in nearby Polder Street.
All twenty-one crew members are buried here. After the ceremony, Ron Johnson, (Glider Pilot Regiment) addressed the children - as he did in 2018 - with an inspirational message of love for one other and the importance of freedom.
The following day, Sunday 5th May, brought the highlight of our trip - the Liberation Day Parade.
On 5th May 1945, German occupation of the Netherlands ended when their forces surrendered to the Allies, and the “Capitulation Act” was agreed at the Hotel de Wereld, Wageningen.
Since that momentous day, the town has remained the focal point for the nation's Liberation Day celebrations.
Since 2012, the Taxi Charity has been bringing Arnhem and other WWII veterans to Wageningen to participate in these celebrations, the centrepiece being the afternoon parade along a 5km route.
Spectators, in some places 3 or 4 deep, lined the streets to wave and cheer as both retired and serving military personnel marched by, whilst others rode in various old military vehicles, including a tank!
Our veterans were transported in two electric carts along with two London taxis. People cheered and clapped as the vehicles slowly passed by. Whilst some waved, many extended an arm hoping to shake a veteran’s hand, give them a flower, or pose for a quick photo whenever the colourful convoy ground to a temporary halt, which it frequently did.
Such was the warmth of the crowd on this otherwise cold day, I momentarily wondered whether “Veteranmania" should be considered for inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary.
The excitement continued back at the hotel that evening during our Gala dinner, where we were entertained by pianist Armand Dusault and the United Sisters singers.
Emma Brown inspired veterans to join her in a singalong too and there was also a wonderful impersonation of Winston Churchill - complete with face mask! - performed by veteran Alan King.
Certainly this was a night to remember. Indeed, it was a trip none of us will ever forget.
The TCMV would like to extend a special thanks to the following people, all of whom provided their help and expertise free of charge. Frans Ammerlaan, Market Garden Foundation, Hans Wiggers and the Den Haag Police, Monique Hekman, Emma Brown, Armand Dusault and the United Sisters.
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