The London Taxi Benevolent Association was established after the end of World War II in 1947. The charity’s mission is to take veterans on outings to places that include the Normandy and Arnhem Battlefields.
The Taxi Charity, as it is known these days, recently received the award for the best voluntary project in Britain in the annual National Lottery Awards. WWII veterans and taxi drivers shared the dance floor in celebration of the award. Wartime classics were played, a trio of singers dressed in the fashion of the era sang for the veterans, many of whom were injured in the war. Injured or not, no one needed encouragement to join in on the floor.
The charity will receive a £3,000 “bonus” prize during the televised awards. That money is already earmarked for next year’s Normandy trip. 90 cabbies will take 150 veterans on a four-day tour. The highlight of the tour will be a Spitfire flyover.
Fred Glover still recalls the day he left for the military. His mother offered to pack him sandwiches as if he was going to school and not to war.
“I didn’t realize the emotions she’d kept wrapped up. She probably went away and cried her eyes out. And it must have taken a month of cheese rations to get the sandwiches together.”
A few months later, Glover was preparing for the D-Day invasion. He was a member of the 9th Parachute Battalion. He was chosen to be one of 600 men to take out a German battery at Merville, Normandy. Only 150 soldiers land there.
His glider was hit by anti-aircraft fire, and he landed in a nearby orchard. He had wounds in both legs, so he was left to guard two German prisoners. One of the Germans had been shot in the stomach, so Glover gave him morphine for the pain.
When a German patrol found the three men, they were about to shoot Glover when the injured German explained Glover’s act of mercy. The patrol instead sent Glover to a hospital in Paris.
Glover still makes regular trips to France despite his advancing years. The Taxi Charity helps fund these trips. They have received £65,000 from the National Lottery’s Heroes Return to support trips like this.
Earlier this summer, Fred decided to raise money himself for the “astonishing” project, undertaking a sponsored skydive down to the Merville Battery. “It made my day,” he says. “We’re very thankful to the taxi drivers who give their time.”
Victor Crofton, a veteran from 1950-1955, served in Egypt, Kenya and Cyprus said, “They’re brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.”
He raises money for the charity by taking a collection pot to railway stations in London. He stands for hours in spite of his leg injuries, sustained in Kenya while fighting the Mau Mau uprising in 1954.
As he drove through the jungle, his vehicle was shot, and he fell with the vehicle down a 100-foot cliff. His legs were crushed, but he survived. “I was very lucky,” he says.
The taxi drivers say that they are grateful for the veterans.
“These guys have given everything for us,” says Carlos Oliveira, 59, one of the three cab driver brothers, along with Salverio, 56, and Roberto 53, who have been involved with the Taxi Charity for more than two decades.
“You can’t go through life and keep taking. You have to give something back.”
The taxi drivers have found that the veterans remain sharp. Oliveira remembers when he met Prince Charles on the Mall with a group of veterans on July 7, 2005 – the day the 7/7 terror attacks took place in London.
“When that bomb went off in Russell Square, we had veterans with us who were saying, ‘Did you hear that, Harry?’, and, ‘Yeah… that’s a bomb.’
“These boys are in their eighties and nineties and recognized the device that blew up in Russell Square from the Mall. They were spot on. That was amazing.”