Taxi Editor: Sebastian, tell us a bit about you...
Seb: I live in Shoreditch and have been a cabbie in London for 18 years. Because I love military history and especially WWII, I volunteer for the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans and attend events with the men and women who lived through the war. It is such a rewarding charity to be part of and I love hearing their stories and I’m very happy to now call many of these men and women friends.
Taxi Editor: What made you go to Italy?
Seb: I have learnt so much about WWII from the veterans I meet with 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.
Taxi Editor: Did you not take the cab?
Seb: I cycled from Calais to the French Alps where I picked up my campervan to continue my journey across the border into Italy. I think it was a bit too far to go in the cab! The cycling was great fun and took me about four and a half days. The campaign began in Sicily and ended in Anzio, but I visited the main areas in reverse; starting in Monte Cassino, then Anzio, moving to Salerno and finally Sicily.
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 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 I thought this was a fitting place to start my trip.
Taxi Editor: Tell us a bit about the trip?
Seb: It was very different to trips in France where all the WWII sites in Normandy are marked with huge signs. In Italy, areas of significance aren’t signposted and you have to rely on guidebooks to find the places you want to investigate. I started in Monte Cassino where the battle for Cassino resulted in 55,000 Allied casualties. In Anzio I visited the two landing beaches, Peter and X-ray; Peter where the British landed and X-ray where the Americans landed.
The British and Americans stayed there for two months, allowing the Germans to move down the country towards the Allied troops giving them a huge advantage. Another veteran I have met through the charity is John King. John was on HMS Janus near Anzio when the boat was torpedoed with the loss of over 200 lives; John was one of the just 62 who survived.
Taxi Editor: You then moved on to Salerno and Sicily?
Seb: The main invasion force landed around Salerno on 9 September 1943 on the western coast in Operation Avalanche. There were three landing zones. One was Paestum, where the brother of Bill Gladden, one of the veterans, that I have met through the Taxi Charity landed.
After my day in Salerno I got the night ferry from Naples to Sicily where I learnt so much about Operation Huskey. The battle in Sicily was one of the first operations involving the Paras and I know 100-year-old veteran, Raymond Whitwell, through the Taxi Charity who was in 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.
Taxi Editor: I understand you laid flowers on a grave?
Seb: Yes, I did. Another Taxi Charity volunteer, cabbie Danny Shelton has a great uncle, JF Cummins, buried in Italy, so I went to the Minturno War Cemetery on my way to Salerno and laid flowers on his grave and brought home videos and pictures for the family.
Taxi Editor: Do you have any plans for more visits to key WWII sites?
Seb: I hope to visit Crete to learn more about the Cretan Resistance and the battle of Crete which began in 1941 when Nazi Germany began an airborne invasion of the island.
Taxi Editor: What events are you going on next with the charity?
Seb: The pandemic means that all our plans are currently on hold but I certainly hope that next year we are able to take our amazing WWII veterans back to Normandy and the Netherlands to pay their respects and remember those who didn’t make it home.
Click for full issue of TAXI. Seb's feature is on page 28.