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French students meet up with WWII veteran in London

On 23 May, a group of pupils met with Harry Rawlins. TAXI spoke to Taxi Charity

volunteers Dick Goodwin and Ian Parsons about the meeting.

About Harry

Henry (Harry) Rawlins joined the army at the age of 18 and was posted to the King's Royal Rifle Corps. After a little over a year in the Rifles, Harry participated in Operation Overlord, the Battle for Normandy and the liberation of German occupied North Western Europe, as reinforcement troops for the British 8th Armoured Brigade, for which the President of France awarded him the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest order of merit.

At Operation Market Garden, his unit advanced through Belgium and into the Netherlands. They halted briefly at Nijmegen and watched the drop of the Polish paratroopers. Harry went via Elst and then onto Arnhem where he was injured. His officer stopped to chat with Harry about his injury and in that brief moment a German sniper took aim and shot him in front of Harry. Harry has always felt terribly guilty that this kind gesture by one person should have resulted in his death.

In April of 1945, Harry took part in an action which displaced the enemy and allowed his unit to take several prisoners. For this, he was awarded the Belgium Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Tell us a bit more about this type of event

Dick: The Taxi Charity is wellknown for its trips to the continent with groups of veterans, but what is less well-known is how we also assist with cultural visits. We have been visiting the St. Louis College, in Cabourg, since 2017 when we began annual D-Day tours of Normandy. It is always a highlight of the stay. When the school asked if we could arrange for them to meet a WWII veteran during their trip to London, we were delighted to facilitate this.

Ian: One of our volunteer cab drivers, Danny Shelton, picked up Harry Rawlins and his friend Michael Shanahan and drove them to the French Institute in South Kensington to meet the students. Harry served in France, Belgium and the Netherlands and was awarded the Belgium Croix de Guerre with Palm and the Legion d’Honneur for his part in WWII. The students took lots of pictures and had many questions for him, including ones about the fighting he had witnessed and participated in, and what type of rifle he used.

What happened when they met?

Dick: The students spent about an hour-and-a-half with Harry and he happily answered all their questions. They presented him with a bottle of Calvados and we were delighted to accept a Normandy flag, which all the students had signed.

What transpired after they’d met the students?

Ian: After the successful meeting, we took Harry and Mike to a pub for lunch and were taken aback when a customer approached us and asked if he could pay for our food and drinks. His father had served with the Duke of Wellington Regiment and kindly wanted to settle our bill. Although he now lived in Halifax, he had lived in London for many years and was a huge supporter of the taxi trade, and was interested to find out more about what our charity did.

What was your overall memory of the experience?

Dick: It was a really positive day and Harry thoroughly enjoyed himself. Our volunteer drivers are taking him and a group of veterans to Normandy on 2 June for the D-Day commemorations, and we will meet other students from the college on the final day of our trip. The charity plays a big part in the lives of the veterans we support and we love this poem that Harry wrote about us. (See below)

A poem by Harry Rawlins

It was well worth being shot at to join this happy band,

The taxi driver’s charity, the finest in the land.

It’s for military veterans who’ve come back from the wars,

They’d been fighting overseas to keep them from our shores.

Now some of these veterans are getting old and frail,

But with their berets and their medals they still can tell their tale.

They are taken to old battlefields to remember former friends,

There they pause and reflect on how suddenly life ends.

With rollators, Zimmer frames and walking sticks they go,

A taxi driver’s guiding hand to regulate the flow.

So, here’s to the taxi drivers and all their helpers too,

It’s almost a tradition, and it’s all thanks to you.


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