Taxi sat down with London cab driver, Paul Cook, who recently decided to find out what Taxi Charity for Military Veterans was all about.
Hi Paul, good to meet you, please introduce yourself.
Paul: Great to meet you too. My name is Paul Cook, I live in Barnehurst and have been a London Cab Driver for 17 years and drive a white TX4 which I use for weddings.
How did you get involved with the Taxi Charity?
Paul: My good friends, cab drivers Colin Mills and Dean Euesden, have for years been telling me about what an amazing time they have volunteering for the Taxi Charity and saying I ought to get involved. I repeatedly told them that I was too busy to do any volunteering and although I knew they thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the veterans I didn’t think it was for me.
So, what changed?
Paul: I got a phone call from the charity in May to say that a driver had had to drop out of their trip to the Netherlands and Colin and Dean had suggested to the organiser that I might be able to help. I tentatively agreed and two days later I was on my way to Harwich with a WWII veteran on my way to the continent.
And what was it like?
Paul: I can honestly say that I had the best time on that first trip and really regret not signing up as a volunteer years ago. I can’t put into words what it’s like to be part of the Taxi Charity family and spend time with these incredible people. I had a WWII veteran in my cab called Bill Gladden, who flew into Normandy on D-Day. He was such great company and was very happy to answer my questions and share his stories. Bill is well-known to Taxi, not only for his WWII story but you have also shared his great love of art and featured some of his pictures.
My Grandfather, Raymond Robert Cook, was a member of the Barnes Wallis team who developed the bouncing bomb used by the RAF in Operation Chastis, which everyone knows as the Dambuster raid that attacked the dams of the Ruhr Valley during WWII. I asked Bill if he would paint a picture for me and I am over the moon with what he has created for me. A great tribute to the work of my Grandfather that the family will always treasure.
As well as The Netherlands, what other trips have you done?
Paul: I was part of the charity trip to Normandy for the D-Day commemorations in June. Then, on 5th July, I was one of the 60 cabs that took a group of veterans to Worthing. It’s a trip that the charity has been doing since 1948! I picked up two Chelease Pensioners from the Royal Hospital and took them to the rendezvous point in South Holmwood near Dorking in Surrey, before heading down the A24 for a meal and entertainment on Worthing Pier.
The villagers of South Holmwood are amazing and I was lucky to chat with resident Ian Fairbrother who hasn’t missed a Taxi Charity visit for 74 years! They had prepared a huge buffet for us and offered copious cups of tea or beers, and had dressed the village hall with bunting.
As we set off for Worthing, some of the villagers came up to the road to wave us off. We were met in Worthing by the Mayor and Town Crier, as well as a crowd of locals and tourists. The veterans and cabs certainly draw attention everywhere we go and it’s a great advert for the London Cab trade and generosity of the volunteer drivers.
Once in the Promenade Room on the pier, we enjoyed a fish and chip lunch followed by ice cream and strawberries, and were then treated to an inspirational guest speaker. The charity had arranged for Darren ‘Swiftie’ Swift, a double above-knee amputee injured by an IRA bomb in 1991 while serving with the Army’s Dog Unit in Belfast, to share his story. His inspirational speech took the audience through so many emotions, including despair and hope, and there were quite a few tears as he finished. The room gave him a much-deserved standing ovation.
What’s next for you?
Paul: Three drivers have just returned from a few days in Belgium, supporting the charity
Waterloo Uncovered that combines an archaeology project on the battlefield of Waterloo with a support program for veterans and the military community, which sounded great fun. For me, I’m waiting for the next call to see how I might be able to help.