London cabbie tours Italian battlefields

Sebastian Philp, a London cabbie from Shoreditch, has a real passion to learn all he can about WWII. This summer he decided to find out more about the Italian campaign and took a trip to discover more about where his grandfather had fought, and to find the locations that the veterans he meets through the Taxi Charity talk about.

Seb Philp, 40, who is a volunteer for the Taxi Charity, said: "I have learnt so much about WWII from the veterans I meet through the charity and know so much about what happened in France and the Netherlands from the trips we take the veterans on each year but I knew very little about the campaign in Italy. So this summer I decided that it was time I found out more about my own family’s history and I took a trip to Italy to discover more about the Italian campaign where my grandfather, Henry “Harry” Philp had done his bit for the war effort."

Harry Philp captained England in the army and knew Sir Alf Ramsey

Seb said: "I knew very little about my grandfather’s part in the war, as he never really talked about it, other than to tell us he was a transporter and that he had a rough time and had seen a young kid pick up a grenade and get blown apart in front of him. I do remember vividly that when I was young and on holiday in the French Alps that my grandfather told me that he had come down the Alps on a donkey during the war, so the French Alps had to play a part in the journey."

Seb cycled from Calais to the French Alps where he picked up his campervan to continue his journey across the border into Italy.

Seb's Italian tour began in Monte Cassino where the battle for Cassino resulted in 55,000 Allied casualties. In Anzio, he visited the two landing beaches, Peter and X-ray; Peter was where the British Landed and X-ray was where the Americans landed. The British and Americans stayed here for two months allowing the Germans to move down the country towards the Allied troops and giving them a huge advantage.

Seb continued: "One veteran I have met through the Taxi Charity is John King. John was on HMS Janus, a J class destroyer, near Anzio.

Seb with John King

On 23 January 1944, Janus was torpedoed and sank off the Anzio beachhead in western Italy. It took a mere 20 minutes for Janus to sink with the loss of over 200 lives. John was one of the just 62 who survived."

"The main invasion force landed around Salerno, on the western coast, on 9 September 1943 in Operation Avalanche. Operation Avalanche was the codename for the Allied landings near the port of Salerno executed on 9 September 1943, part of the Allied invasion of Italy. There were three landing zones; one was Paestum, where the brother of Bill Gladden, another of the veterans that I have met through the Taxi Charity, landed."

Seb with Bill Gladden

After his day in Salerno, Seb got the night ferry from Naples to Sicily where he learnt more about Operation Huskey. Operation Husky, was a major campaign in which the Allies took the island of Sicily from Italy and Germany. It began with a large amphibious and airborne operation, followed by a six-week land campaign.

"The battle in Sicily was one of the first operations involving the Paras and I am fortunate to know 100-year-old WWII veteran, Raymond Whitwell, who was part of this operation. Ray was in the first wave of troops to land in a Waco glider at a bridge near to a town called Siracusa, where their job was to secure the bridge for the troops coming in from the sea."

Seb with Ray Whitwell

While in Italy, Seb visited the grave of JF Cummins, the great uncle of fellow cabbie and Taxi Charity volunteer, Danny Shelton, in the Minturno War Cemetery. Seb laid flowers on his grave and brought home videos and pictures for the family.

"My tour was steeped in history and I loved every minute. My next will be to Crete to learn more about the part this Greek Island played in WWII."


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