Hi Susy! How long have you been volunteering for the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans?
Susy: I began volunteering in 2008 and the charity has become a real passion and I can’t imagine not being involved. I love spending time with the veterans and hearing their amazing stories. As a keen photographer, I have taken thousands of pictures during trips with the Taxi Charity across the UK and the continent.
What does your volunteering entail?
Susy: My background is in graphic design and I create printed material for the charity including cards, posters, brochures, newsletters, and postcards. I also designed a taxi wrap for one of our trips to the continent. When I started, I thought I might offer a few hours a week, but the charity is such a magical combination of volunteer London cab drivers and veterans, that I volunteer as much time as I can, and it is now probably the equivalent of a full time role.
How has this year affected the charity?
Susy: This year has been particularly difficult for the charity. My husband, Dick, is a Vice President of the charity, and we would normally pay regular visits to veterans across London and the south East which we haven’t been able to do. When the first lockdown was announced, the charity knew that with so many restrictions on travel and social distancing, we would not be able to have our usual calendar of events for the veterans but needed to ensure that we could keep in regular contact with them. Many of our veterans do not have access to computers or mobile phones and many are hard of hearing, so emails, texts, or phone calls don’t work for everyone. To allow the charity to keep in regular contact, I designed a card or gift for each month which marked an event or date that might be important them.
Since March, the veterans have received cards, gifts or commemorative booklets to coincide with Easter, St George's Day, The Battle of Waterloo, The Battle of Britain and The Battle of Trafalgar. For VE Day and VJ Day, we sent commemorative tins filled with goodies and on the anniversary of Operation Market Garden, messages from members of the Dutch government thanking veterans for their service were made into a card that the veterans could keep. Remembrance Week is an important time for our veterans, so we sent out cards to coincide with that. We also send out a regular charity newsletter.
The cards are posted but where possible volunteer cabbies hand deliver the gifts and we have been delighted to receive so many calls and messages thanking the charity for their kindness in thinking of them during this difficult year.
What do you have planned for Christmas?
Susy: We always have a huge Christmas party for our veterans, but of course this had to be cancelled - so for the last few weeks I have been very busy hand making 200 Christmas stockings that we can fill with treats and send to them. Our friends in France and Holland will also be sending us cards and messages for us to deliver to our veterans.
What is planned for the new year?
Susy: In January, the veterans will be receiving a card to mark the anniversary of Rorke’s Drift. We knew that Frederick Hitch who was awarded a Victoria Cross at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift became a London horse drawn Hackney Carriage driver and later drove a motorised cab. A Fred Hitch Gallantry Award for Cabbies was created to honour his memory, and this seemed a perfect card, as our volunteer cabbies who show such care and respect are heroes to our veterans.
What else do you do?
Susy: I send the veterans a birthday card from the charity and decorate cakes for major milestones like reaching 100. When we take our veterans on trips, every veteran receives a set of postcards with a picture of him or her as young service personnel. On the continent these cards have become very much treasured and the people we meet in The Netherlands and France want to collect as many as they can - ideally with autographs!
What is your proudest achievement for the charity?
Susy: About a year before he died, WWII veteran Frank Pendergast asked me if I would do him a favour. He asked that when the time came, if I might make a regimental coffin cover. It was an honour to fulfil that promise by ordering velvets and making and hand sewing his Parachute regimental badge on to a cover for his coffin. Although we had to have a socially distanced funeral, I was delighted that I had been able to carry out his wish and dress his coffin in the way he had wanted. I am always proud to be associated with such a unique charity, our extraordinary veterans and the wonderful London Taxi drivers who make it all possible.
Click here to view PDF of Issue 482 of TAXI magazine. Susy's article is on page 29.