WWII veteran, Bill Gladden, who is 98-years-old, lives in Suffolk and recently joined the Taxi Charity on a visit to the Netherlands. On the trip, he heard about Dave – the famous Edensor Care Home cat. Slightly intrigued, TAXI decided to investigate a little further...
Hi Bill, good to meet you. Can you tell me a little about your love of painting?
Bill: I have loved painting since I was a child, and it has developed into a lifelong passion. When I was young, we lived in Woolwich, and I used to spend all my spare time at the Woolwich Barracks with the horses. I paint all subjects, but I love painting animals – particularly horses and dogs.
Do you still paint a lot?
Bill: I do indeed, and I am never short of things to paint. It is such a lovely hobby and fills a lot of my time. I always use water colours; I might have liked to have tried oils but my late wife hated the smell of turps so I never changed the medium I used! I’m very lucky to get lots of commissions via people I meet through the Taxi Charity. All I ask is that if they like the painting I have done for them, they donate to the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans.
So how did you hear about Dave, the care home cat? What’s special about Dave and why is he famous?
Bill: I first heard about ‘Dave’ over dinner in the Netherlands and I was intrigued by the way he came to live at the care home. The care home is run by the charity, Diagrama, and is close to the sea in Clacton. Last year, the staff had asked their residents to reveal something they would love for a wish tree. One of the residents asked, “for a cat to care and love for” and was over the moon when a little kitten, who they named Dave, arrived.
We got talking about Dave as he has become very famous not only in Essex but across the country. He was featured in a local BBC News piece last summer and unbelievably the video became one of the top five watched BBC videos in 2021 and has been watched thousands of times.
When I learnt how Dave has totally changed the lives of the residents, many who live with dementia or complex medical needs, I decided that I would like to send the home a portrait of him for his first birthday.
How do you work?
Bill: I work from photos and asked the home to send me a picture of Dave.
How long did it take you to paint him?
Bill: I work very quickly and was able to send the portrait in time for his first birthday party on 7th March – which almost didn’t happen.
What happened to the party?
Bill: The care home had planned a very special celebration, with cake for the residents and a special cat cake for Dave, but he went missing the day before. The staff and residents were frantic with worry and made flyers and walked the streets trying to find him! Typical of a cat, he finally turned up just as his party was coming to an end.
What will you be painting next?
Bill: That’s the joy of what I do – I‘m never sure what I will be asked to paint next. I understand that Dave has a lady kitty friend so I might get to paint her. As soon as people find out that I love painting they ask if I might paint their pet, and if I can make a little bit of money for the Taxi Charity by doing what I love, then all the better. I went with them to the Netherlands in March, and they are taking me and my niece again in May. It’s all free and the volunteer cab drivers are an amazing bunch of people who do so much to make sure we are looked after.
Were you in the Netherlands during the war?
Bill: No. I flew into Normandy in a glider as part of the D-Day operations on June 6th. On the 18th, I was shot in the ankle and spent the next three years in hospital. It was a very long road to recovery, and I never returned to the Brigade and was finally pensioned out of the army.
What was the scene like when you landed in Normandy?
Bill: Many years ago I painted what I saw when we exited the glider so that future generations will understand the enormity of WWII and especially the significance of D-Day. The gliders were huge – ours carried a tank!
What other Taxi Charity trips will you be joining?
Bill: In June, I will be travelling back to Normandy for the D-Day commemorations. It is always a wonderful visit. It is very moving to attend the services of remembrance and lay a wreath to those we lost. I cannot thank the charity enough for what they do for all us veterans. London cab drivers truly are the finest!