Chairman's Blog: Life is what happens whilst you're making other plans



Last year was an extraordinary year in the Taxi Charity's history. The wide range of events, trips and historic anniversaries made 2019, in my opinion, a year without parallel.


As the year ended, I held the firm belief it could never be equalled.


Then, as January unfolded and our plans for 2020 fell into place, I became increasingly confident the next twelve months would not only match those of 2019, but possibly even surpass them.


I had good reason to be confident. Alongside our normal calendar of events – such as our golf day fundraiser, seaside trip to Worthing and flying day at Damyn’s Hall Aerodrome – as with last year, we would again be participating in several major national and international anniversaries, the first being the 75th anniversary of Dutch Liberation.


This trip was to have taken place 2 - 6 May, and we planned to take as many WWII veterans to the Netherlands as we possibly could to celebrate the day and participate in the Liberation parade.


The Dutch organisers were going the extra mile for this anniversary. Our veterans would lead the parade in a convoy of London black cabs with a special “Dutch Orange” liveried cab at the front, decorated with logos and both national flags.


On our return home, the Taxi Charity – and London cabbies – were to have played a vital role during three days of celebrations and commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day, transporting hundreds of veterans around the capital to an array of events.


We had also planned two visits to Normandy; one in June for D-Day 76, and then again in September – in all likelihood for the final time – to attend the inauguration of the Normandy Memorial in Ver sur Mer.


Meanwhile over the Summer Solstice weekend, the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity had invited every WWII veteran connected to the Taxi Charity to a 1940s-themed street party at Whale Island, Portsmouth.


Traditionally, August is a quiet month for the charity, but this year we were going to Biggin Hill for their annual air show and on 15 August, were to travel to Staffordshire, to attend the VJ 75 commemorations at the National Memorial Arboretum, as the country marked the day 75 years ago when World War II officially ended.


2020 was to have been a year like no other... and sadly so it has proved to be, but for all the wrong reasons.


The Coronavirus pandemic changed everything...



COLLECTORS & SUPPORTERS LUNCH



Before the virus impacted, we began our year, as always, with our Collectors & Supporters Lunch at the RAF Club in Piccadilly. This is our opportunity to extend a special thank you to our veteran collectors for their hard work and also our supporters for their generous donations and other fundraising initiatives. Over 80 guests attended and a good day was enjoyed by all.



HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH



On 28 February, we embarked on a very special trip, as we drove six WWII Royal Navy veterans to Portsmouth Dock for a VIP tour of the RN’s flagship Aircraft Carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth. We were escorted to the aircraft hangar where our private tour began.


Our party enjoyed morning tea and refreshments in the Captain's cabin with the ship's commander, Captain Angus Essenhigh, and Commander Charles Guy. This was followed by a visit to the bridge which everyone found fascinating.


We were delighted our patron, Vice Admiral Sir Adrian Johns, was able to join us for this very special invitation.



VETERANS LUNCH - CHEAM


On 5 March, Taxi Charity supporter Tony Millard once again invited veterans to North Cheam Sports & Social Club for his annual veterans lunch. Sadly, this was to be the final such occasion as the building is to be redeveloped to become a school.



AIRBORNE MUSEUM - OOSTERBEEK


One week later, we escorted six Battle of Arnhem veterans to the Netherlands, to attend the re-opening of the Hartenstein Airborne Museum at Oosterbeek. We arrived on 12 March, and following lunch at the Schoonoord – the Airborne veterans' favourite pub and restaurant – our five-cab convoy headed to Arnhem-Oosterbeek War Cemetery.


For the veterans, the opportunity to pay their respects at this immaculately maintained cemetery, containing the graves of those killed during the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944, is always the most important moment of their trip.


On arrival, 100-year-old Ray Whitwell slowly made his way to the final resting place of his young comrades, where he stood for several moments in quiet reflection. Afterwards, he shared his thoughts with a reporter from de Gelderlander newspaper.





Defying Corona to remember
Oosterbeek
War veteran Ray Whitwell (aged 101) walking with his frame step-by-step along the graves of his fallen comrades from the Battle of Arnhem on 18 and 19 September 1944. The confusion surrounding the Coronavirus is secondary to his mind here. He had heard about the possible problems that could arise but was determined to go. The reason the veterans came over was for the opening of the Airborne Museum. Sadly, the opening had to be cancelled. Looking at the graves of his 23 and 25-year-old friends he stated: "it is quieter and more peaceful than during the busy time in September and I appreciate this."

The Covid-19 virus had been at the forefront of our minds for several weeks. We and our Dutch friends had been monitoring the situation very carefully in the days running up to the trip.


We are acutely aware, by its very nature, transporting veterans of such great age inevitably involves an element of risk. But after careful consideration, we concluded our visit to the Gelderland province posed no additional risk of catching the virus. Indeed, the figures indicated travelling to Oosterbeek and Arnhem meant we were effectively heading away from the problem.


But shortly after we arrived at our hotel, events began to overtake us. The Dutch government announced all museums in the Netherlands must close with immediate effect. In an instant, the reason for our trip had evaporated. With rumours abound and everything descending into a confused state of flux, we decided to cut short our trip, and the following day we headed home.