TAXI talks to Frances Wyhowska, Vice President, Taxi Charity for Military
Veterans, about her role, cabbies, and the current focus of the charity...
Hi Frances, thanks for taking the time to talk to TAXI. How did you get involved with the cab trade?
Frances: I have always been a regular user of London’s black cabs. When my late husband needed to visit the hospital regularly for treatment, two drivers who we knew well constantly amazed us by their small acts of kindness. What made a huge difference to us both was that they allowed him to keep his self-respect while doing that little extra to help him and after he died, we stayed in regular contact. A couple of years later, when I retired, I learnt that not everything was going well for the cab trade. I tried to raise awareness through mainstream and social media and as a result met many drivers who have become good friends. In 2015, I was asked to join the Taxi Charity committee.
What is your role with the Taxi Charity?
Frances: As well as sitting on the committee and attending many of the charity events, as Vice President, I spend much of my time networking to develop relationships with those who can support the charity, either by donating time, money, expertise, or perhaps a prestigious venue in which we might hold an event, such as HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Tell us about your favourite visits?
Frances: There have been so many highlights since 2015, but two very special occasions were going on board HMS Queen Elizabeth and visiting Germany for the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Berlin Airlift.
In February 2020, we took six WWII Royal Naval veterans to Portsmouth for a private visit to the Royal Navy’s largest aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. We were all given special VIP passes which allowed the cabs quayside: a great honour. The tour of the ship included a walk through the aircraft hangar, refreshments in the captain’s cabin and a visit to the Bridge. We were all delighted when the captain allowed WWII veteran WREN Marie Scott, to transmit a short message from the Bridge echoing D-Day when she transmitted messages to the Normandy beaches.
In May 2019, we took seven nonagenarian RAF veterans in four black cabs to Berlin as the guests of the British Embassy. The veterans were flown over to be met by the cab drivers who had driven from London in a day! During the trip we visited the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie and were invited by the German Defence Minister to a grand reception at the Allied Museum.
No doubt the pandemic has impacted on the charity greatly. How has it been?
Frances: The pandemic has had the most devastating effect on all of us. It has been heartbreaking to see London closed for business. It was so frustrating for the committee to put all our plans on hold. I was unable to do face to face networking or meetings which has lost us many opportunities to ask for support. Despite this we retained contact with many veterans, and we were incredibly gratified to be awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
I have to ask this next question... Can you tell us a little about just how important the cabbies are to the charity?
Frances: The most precious thing anyone can give is their time, and the drivers who support the charity are amazing. They can give as much or as little time as they want, and it is so rewarding to see the great friendships they develop with the veterans. All our volunteers deserve a round of applause, but a couple who deserve special mention are Jon Cox and Joe Cartwright who worked until 4.00am one morning to edit a film for us as part of our Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service submission. Their generosity was amazing, and the video had an important impact on our successful application. It is impossible to thank the cab trade enough.
Frances: We are very aware that the popular perception of a veteran is someone elderly who fought in WWII. A veteran can be 21 or 101. As a charity, we need to ensure we are supporting younger veterans, many of whom are lonely and isolated. We held a successful Go Karting event for younger veterans earlier this year, we support Waterloo Uncovered by taking veterans to their annual archaeological digs in Belgium and we are constantly looking for other ways to support the younger boys and girls by offering them social events where they can meet other veterans and have some fun.
I understand you are also working with an advisory group on veteran issues?
Frances: This year my association with the Taxi Charity contributed to my appointment to the government’s Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committee, which helps to ensure that those who have served, and their families, get the support which they deserve. I am grateful to have another challenging and interesting role involving our veterans.
How can cabbies support the charity?
Frances: There are so many ways that cab drivers can help. Without everything they do for us, no matter how small it might seem, we would not be in as healthy a position. Volunteers
don’t have to commit to joining us on every trip – sometimes we might simply need a driver to take a veteran to a one-off appointment. We would love to hear from drivers who would like to join us, or who could put a charity collection box in their local pub or social club and assist us with fundraising. When you see the smiles on the faces of our veterans, you know your efforts are worthwhile.
How can cabbies find out more?
Frances: If you would like to learn more about what we do, head to our website www.taxicharity.org or talk to other cabbies about why they already volunteer.