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London cabbie Dave Hemstead talks to TAXI...

TAXI: Hi Dave please do introduce yourself!

Dave: I’m 60, from Morden and have been a London Cabbie for 19 years and have been volunteering for the Taxi Charity for over 15 years.

TAXI: How did you get involved with the Taxi Charity?

Dave: I was in the territorial army many years ago and I have a real love of military history and volunteering for the Taxi Charity allows me to be able to meet the guys and girls who served during WWII and hear first-hand about their experiences during the war. I love going to the continent on the charity trips and hearing the veteran’s stories about the places we visit, and which make history come alive.

TAXI: I’ve been told to ask you about your mate Roy?

Dave: In Normandy, all the cabbies are assigned a veteran for the duration of the trip and I am always paired with Roy Cadman, a Chelsea Pensioner who has become a good friend. The last time the charity was able to go to Normandy to mark D-Day was in 2019 on the 75th anniversary. Roy was in No.3 Commando and was part of the advance group that pushed through Normandy after the D-Day landings. Most of the trip is completed in a convoy of cabs but Roy loves to revisit parts of the route he took through France back in 1944 and lay wreaths in some of the small villages to show his respect and remember those that were lost, so we often take some time away from the group. In 2019 we went on a drive round some small villages and at one point Roy asked me to stop the cab and we walked together to the boundary wall of the Amfreville Chateau and Roy pointed out the seventy-five-year-old bullet holes and told us the story behind them. A truly moving moment.

TAXI: Does the charity just support WWII veterans?

Dave: The support the charity gives to WWII veterans is very well documented, but they do support veterans from all conflicts, and I have been very lucky to take a younger veteran to Waterloo Uncovered.

TAXI: What’s Waterloo Uncovered?

Dave: Waterloo Uncovered is a fabulous UK charity that combines world class archaeology on the battlefield of Waterloo with veteran care and recovery. They approached the Taxi Charity to see if there was a cabbie who would be happy to volunteer to take Matt Weston, a triple amputee, and his wheelchair over on the ferry to Belgium to participate in the 2018 dig and support his care requirements while on the continent. Having researched the charity, I jumped at the chance and have been lucky enough to go to the Waterloo Uncovered annual dig in Belgium twice with Matt. Joining the charity on the dig was British field archaeologist Phil Harding, from the Ch 4 TV series Time Team. He is an interesting character whose passion for archaeology is infectious. He is a real advocate for how this adventure into the past is helping the wellbeing of the veterans and serving personnel who attend. Matt and I have really got to know each other very well and I was delighted when he joined the Taxi Charity at their Christmas party in 2019. The interaction between the older and younger guests, including many serving personnel, is always a treat to see.

TAXI: What’s next?

Dave: Sadly, COVID-19 meant all the Taxi Charity plans were cancelled last year and I sincerely hope that we can go on some small events later this year. After the veterans have been living in lockdown for over a year, it will be wonderful to see them singing and laughing together once more. The restrictions also cancelled the Waterloo Uncovered digs in both 2020 and 2021 but I really hope that next year I will be able to return to the site with Matt. As for the cab trade, I’m hopeful that London continues on the road to recovery and London’s finest thrive once more.

About Waterloo Uncovered

The Waterloo Uncovered project had its origins in the shared experience of two men, Mark Evans, and Charlie Foinette. Both had studied archaeology together and both subsequently served as officers in the Coldstream Guards – a regimental connection that was to prove key in opening this closely protected battlefield to archaeological exploration.

Upon leaving the Army, Mark was encouraged to revisit archaeology as a means of working through the mental legacy of his own experiences in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Charlie, still serving with the battalion, took his men on a tour of Hougoumont Farm on the battlefield of Waterloo.

Hougoumont is ‘sacred ground’ to the regiment: the walled compound of farm buildings, gardens and orchards served as a fortress out in front of the allied line and became the scene of a dramatic ‘battle-within-a-battle’. It’s one of the Coldstream Guards’ proudest battle honours (although, as the archaeological evidence was to show, one that they share with other regiments).

Mark and Charlie made two important realisations. Firstly – that little archaeological work had taken place on the battlefield, and secondly – that being part of a team working through the processes of an archaeological dig has the potential to help people with their recovery and rehabilitation.

Building on the regimental connection, and with the cooperation of Project Hougoumont who maintain the site, the first group of archaeologists, VSMP, and experts in an assortment of specialisms began their explorations in 2015 – the year of the battle’s bi-centenary. Since then, participants have made important new discoveries about the battle and about themselves.


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