London cab driver, Seb Philp, and Taxi Charity volunteer, Chris Willmott,
talk about their fundraising challenge.
Great to talk to you again, Seb, and nice to meet you, Chris.
Seb: Hello, great to catch up. As you know I do love a challenge. Last year I did The Three Peaks with a fellow cabbie to raise funds for the Taxi Charity, and I do hope this new ‘Market Garden Challenge’ will raise some more much-needed money for the charity.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Chris?
Chris: I spent over five years in the Parachute Regiment and also served in the Fire Service for 24, and have been volunteering for the Taxi Charity since 2016. I originally became involved while supporting a WW2, 2 Para veteran, Arthur Letchford, and because I was impressed by the work the Taxi Charity does in support of military vets.
So, what is the ‘Market Garden Challenge’?
Chris: We all know how much charities are struggling to recoup the funds they lost when the pandemic put a halt to most fundraising activities, so Seb and I got together to think of a challenge that might raise not only awareness of this great charity but also generate some funds to pay for future commemoration trips that are beloved by veterans.
Seb: In September, the Taxi Charity takes veterans to The Netherlands for the Operation Market Garden commemorations and for the ‘Wandletocht’, so Chris and I decided to build a challenge around this prominent event.
Chris: Our plan is to cycle 115k across The Netherlands then walk 40k to replicate the route taken by the allies during Operation Market Garden, in 1944. To make it slightly more difficult for us, we will be cycling on two gearless WWII Airborne folding bicycles generously loaned to us by the Airborne Museum at Duxford and The Glider Museum at Wolfheze. Then, to make the walk more of a challenge, we will be carrying a 35lb British Army 'bergen’ rucksack to replicate the weight, as part of the Airborne selection process.
Tell us what the bikes are like.
Seb: Very basic and robust. We certainly hope they don’t let us down! We are being supported during the challenge by London Cab Driver Danny Shelton, the charity’s Dutch Advisor Frans Ammerlaan from the Market Garden Foundation, together with Evelien Kroot, Anne Haverman and Erny Van Wilk. Let’s hope that if we have a problem with the bikes one of them will be able to get us on the move again!
For those who may not know, what was Operation Market Garden?
Chris: Operation Market Garden was an Allied military operation during WWII, fought in The Netherlands from 17th - 25th September, 1944, and intended to create a route from Belgium into Northern Germany with the hope that the war may be over by Christmas. Unfortunately, as so often happens, things didn’t go entirely to plan. The Charity supports veterans who were in The Netherlands as part of Operation Market Garden and, in September, arranges for them to visit to remember those who didn’t return. We are truly honoured that during the challenge we will be carrying the ashes of much missed WWII veteran John Jeffries who often visited The Netherlands with the Taxi Charity. John always enjoyed returning there where, on 18th September, 1944, as part of the 1st Airborne Division, he landed on Ginkel Heath for Operation Market Garden.
Seb: John was such a lovely man. He served with the Royal Corps of Signals in Italy, North Africa, Syria and Palestine. In 1941, he joined the 1st Airborne Division and was injured when he landed on Ginkel Heath in September of 1944. He used to say that his life was saved by three Dutch girls who ran over and asked for his parachute to make dresses. Sadly, he was captured and sent to Stalag XI-B in Lower Saxony. He escaped, only to be recaptured shortly after discovering the German secret Mistel experiment. (This was used during the last months of WWII; Mistel was a German bomber with the entire nose-located crew compartment replaced by a specially designed nose filled with a large load of explosives.)
Do you have a fundraising target?
Chris: We have set ourselves a target of £10,000 from this challenge. But this is only the start and I have already begun to think about what we might do after this one! Ideally, over the next twelve months, we would like to raise a total of £45,000. Next year is the 75th anniversary of the charity, so it’s a really important time for them and we want to try and raise as much as we can so that they can continue to support veterans.
How can people donate?
Seb: We know things are tough for a lot of Cab Drivers but if you could spare a couple of
quid our Justgiving page is www.justgiving.com/fundraising/taxicharitymarketgardenchallenge. Any help sharing our fundraising page on Twitter or Facebook would be a great help too.