TAXI talks with London cab driver, Pat Granger, about WWII veteran Alec Hall who
celebrates his 100th birthday this month...
Hi Pat, how do you know Alec?
Pat: I’ve been volunteering for the Taxi Charity ever since I got my badge 19 years ago. I was a member of The Parachute Regiment between 1994 and 2011, and therefore wanted to become part of the charity at the earliest opportunity. I have driven lots of veterans in the cab over the years, but it wasn’t until last December that I drove Alec. I picked him up from his home in Southend and took him to the Taxi Charity's christmas party at Millwall FC. He is such a great guy and in May I was happy to drive him and his two daughters, Sue Hall and Anne Bennett, over to the Netherlands with the Taxi Charity for the Dutch Liberation.
Is he an Arnhem veteran?
Pat: Yes, he is. He was in 181 Field Ambulance and was a medic in Africa and Italy before being sent to the Netherlands with the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the Airborne Division. He flew into Arnhem in a glider, and he tells me his medical knowledge was needed almost straight away when Reg Curtis had his leg badly injured. Not only did Alec use his own shirt as a tourniquet but he donated two pints of his own blood to save his fellow soldier.
What were your highlights of the trip to the Netherlands?
Pat: There are always so many great memories when you are away with the charity, but if I was to pick two from this trip, it would be the Dutch Liberation parade and taking Alec on a battlefield tour. On the 5th of May, Alec was one of the veterans in the parade in Wageningen and having been in the Paras, I was honoured to be asked to march alongside the veterans as an escort. The way the Dutch respond to these guys is incredible.
My other highlight was taking Alec and his daughters on a short battlefield tour. During the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944, the Schoonoord, which is now a restaurant with the nickname ‘Airborne pub no.1’ and two other hotels in Oosterbeek were equipped as emergency hospitals where Alec worked with extreme professionalism saving many lives.
We visited the three sites, one of which is now an office block. Spotting Alec in his beret, outside the office block, they promptly invited us in and showed us pictures of how the building had looked during the war. The tour prompted lots of memories and he showed us many places and explained their significance.
How did his war end?
Pat: He was working with the Dutch resistance and when they made their escape, he stayed behind with the wounded, was captured and taken as a POW and transferred to a camp in Munich. After he was repatriated, he went to Dortmund to run the nursing side of a hospital.
Tell me about his family?
Pat: Alec has always been sports mad – hockey, rugby, football, and tennis. During the 1950s, he was the captain of the local tennis club in Southend and can you believe he was still playing tennis in his mid-seventies! A young girl called Margaret came to the club one day for a trial and they fell in love and were married in 1956. Alec and Margaret’s two daughters gave them four grandchildren, Dominic, Millie, Edward, and William. Sadly, Margaret died in 2019 and everyone really misses her.
What sort of a guy is Alec?
Pat: He is a joy to be with and certainly defies his age mentally and physically. The Airborne ethos that ‘there is nothing these men can’t do’ shines through in Alec. He looks much younger than his years, is very sharp and fit and he speaks eloquently about what happened 78 years ago. He recalls memories of the war as if it happened yesterday, although whatever stories he shares are never about him but always about what others did.
How will Alec celebrate his 100th?
Pat: Alec is having a party at home in the garden of his bungalow in Southend in early June for his friends and family. I am delighted to have been invited and understand we will be having sandwiches, cake, tea, and fizz. Alec doesn’t know, but the mayor is going to surprise him by popping in to join the birthday celebrations.