TAXI chats with Charity Vice President, Dick Goodwin, about the trip to Normandy in early June...
Hi Dick, good to talk to you again. After the success of the trip to the Netherlands, I understand you are off to the continent again?
Dick: Hi! We are indeed – on the 3rd of June we are taking a group of veterans to Normandy for the D-Day commemorations.
How many veterans are you taking?
Dick: On this trip we hope to take 24 veterans and about 30 cabs. Sadly, as the years pass, the days when we could go over with 100 plus cabs have long gone and we know that for each trip there will be disappointed volunteer drivers who would have loved to have joined us. Our trips are predictably getting smaller, but I am delighted that the warmth of feeling on the continent for these veterans is getting stronger with each year that passes.
What are the veterans most looking forward to?
Dick: As we have not been able to travel to Normandy since 2019, the whole trip will be very special as it may well be the last time some of the veterans are able to travel. Having said that, so many of our veterans continue to amaze us with their determination to travel with us whenever possible and as well as the veterans in their 90s we will have veterans aged 100, 102 and 103 with us.
If I was to predict, I think two of the highlights will be on the 4th and 6th of June.
On our first day, we will be visiting the impressive British Normandy Memorial at Ver sur Mer. Last year we had been invited to the opening of this magnificent memorial which sits above Gold beach, but pandemic restrictions meant that we couldn’t travel. Instead, we took our veterans to the National Memorial Arboretum over D-Day weekend to watch the opening on a big screen. To finally be able to pay our respects here will be very poignant for veterans and drivers alike.
Also, the service at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Ranville on the 6th of June is always a very moving experience. The veterans are invited to sit at the front and have opportunity to lay wreaths. The location, the prayers, the music, and the involvement of today’s troops makes the occasion very special and the perfect way to remember those who fell on D-Day.
But we should not underestimate that for drivers and carers who have never been with us before, seeing the immense stretches of the Normandy beaches and thinking about what these men did in June 1944 can be very emotional.
Your veterans must have amazing stories?
Dick: They do indeed, but they are a very humble bunch who mainly tell us that they didn’t do much. On this trip we will be joined by Marie Scott who was presented with the Legion D’Honneur for her part in D-Day. She transmitted messages to and from the beaches on D-Day from deep underground at the command centre in Fort Southwick. When asked about that day, she always says that when she lifted the handle on the transistor radio to receive a message from the beaches, she could hear the horror of war. We also have Bill Gladden, the WWII veteran who paints, that you spoke with recently. He flew into Normandy on a wooden glider which was so big that it carried a tank and eight motorbikes. Bill was shot in the ankle and spent the next three years in hospital. Roy Maxwell will also be with us, he is 100, and on D-Day was part of No.4 Commando, who landed on Sword beach. He was piped ashore by Bill Mullen, and we will attend a short ceremony by his good friend Bill’s statue at Coleville Montgomery.
I’ve had a quick look at the itinerary, and this seems like a huge undertaking moving so many people around?
Dick: It certainly is. We are lucky to have an advisor in France, who helps us to liaise with the French authorities, plans the activities and the very important menus and timings of food, as we all know an army marches on its stomach! She helps with the accommodation and secures a team of motorbike outriders to move us safely and in convoy from event to event.
Normandy is always so busy at this time of year and all the other visitors are trying to go to the same places as we are, so the outriders are invaluable.
Three members of the Taxi Charity committee went out on a recce earlier this year and I went again in May. With our trip consisting of so many veterans in their 90s and 100s, we must check access arrangements, parking, distances between locations, as well as the very important location of toilets. It takes a huge amount to of time to plan these trips but once we board the ferry, we have a few hours to relax before the huge responsibility of the trip takes over for the next few days.