TAXI caught up with London cab driver, Ian Parsons, to reflect on his memorable time as Taxi Charity chairman.
So, Ian, when did you become Taxi Charity Chairman?
Ian: I have been Chairman since 14th May, 2019, and will be handing over to the new Chairman in early September.
What have been the highlights?
Ian: There have been many! And if I were to list my top ten for you today, I’m sure they would be different tomorrow. But two very special moments do spring to mind. They were both from our 2019 trip to Normandy.
It was 6th June – the 75th anniversary of D-Day – and I had the honour of laying a wreath with WWII veteran Bill Gladden, during the commemoration service at Ranville Cemetery. 75 years earlier, almost to the hour, Bill and his 6th Airborne comrades landed in a Hamilcar glider in a nearby field. This was a very poignant moment for me – and there would be another later that day following our lunch at Amfreville village hall. Children from the local primary school had lined the street to greet our convoy, smiling and waving flags as the cabs arrived. After we’d eaten, I walked outside and spontaneously invited the children to join us. There must have been at least 200 who began snaking their way in and I thought, oh no, what have I done, is there room in here for everyone?
The children packed on to the small stage at the back of the hall and sang to the veterans. It was all unplanned and quite delightful. Afterwards, whilst they posed for photos with the veterans, I discovered that one, Roy Cadman (No.3 Commando), had helped liberate Amfreville.
Ian: 2020 was shaping up to be the biggest year in our charity’s history, but Covid destroyed all our plans. We were to have played a major role at several landmark military anniversaries across the UK, as well as in The Netherlands and Normandy. Among the many events lost was VE-Day 75. Planning was in its final stages when the pandemic struck. Just think how our country would have celebrated that occasion. And imagine the role the Taxi Charity and our volunteer cabbies would have played in London, during the three-day celebration weekend.
What are you most proud of during your time as Chairman?
Ian: Our response to the pandemic, which ultimately led to us to win The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
From the start of the emergency, our main aim was to keep in contact with as many veterans as we could: by phone, post and, where possible, in person, and to offer help and support, especially to those living alone and isolated.
We came up with a variety of imaginative ideas during the lockdowns, including socially-distanced doorstep visits. Some went on to form support bubbles. Our volunteers delivered shopping, supplies and prescriptions. We delivered goodie bags and other gifts too.
Drivers also took veterans for hospital appointments and for their covid vaccinations. Some even delivered a birthday cake and the occasional home-made meal.
We published a regular Veteran Newsletter and posted out thousands of cards – those we created and those we received from a multitude of supporters in Normandy and The Netherlands.
We responded very well under exceptionally difficult circumstances.
Who have you met that really made an impression on you?
Ian: That’s a hard one. I’ve met many fascinating people during my time as Chairman, so let me answer in a roundabout way.
On my first full day, I spoke at the Dutch Centre in the City of London about the history and work of the Taxi Charity. The occasion was the Spirit of Arnhem seminar, ahead of the 75th anniversary commemorations. And on 3rd September, my final day as Chairman, I will be participating in the Airborne Walking March which takes you past several of the battlefield sites.
I’ve been going to the Netherlands with the Taxi Charity since 2014, and I never cease to be amazed by the respect, enthusiasm and warmth of the welcome our veterans receive from the Dutch – or, indeed, that all of us receive.
Over 100,000 were in Wageningen recently, to celebrate Dutch Liberation Day. They waved and cheered the veterans as our convoy drove by. Some handed them flowers whilst others held up hand-made ‘thank you’ signs and other messages. Just incredible.
It’s by chance my time as Chairman has been bookended by these Dutch events – and no-one has made a greater impression on me than Dutch people.
What would you like to say about the volunteers?
Ian: Throughout our 75-year history, the Taxi Charity has relied on the generosity of its volunteers: that mainly consists of London cabbies who give their time and vehicles free of charge. We are a unique military charity for this reason, but we also rely on the help and expertise of other volunteers from outside our trade. All I can offer is my heartfelt thanks to one and all, and say you can be proud of what you have done. You have helped change lives and made a positive difference to so many.
I would also like to use this opportunity to remember and thank all those who came before us; those who helped develop the charity from its humble beginnings.
What are your plans for after the Taxi Charity?
Ian: Whilst I’m stepping down as Chairman, I am remaining on the committee and will continue to play an active role. Anne, my wife and Taxi Charity volunteer, and I recently moved house and she’s got a long list of things for me to do… and I’ve got a long list of places I want us to visit! Tool shed or Hawaii? It’s a tough one.