More than 100 Black Cabs collected the veterans from various locations in and around London. They gathered first in South Holmwood, a former British Legion village in Surrey turned over to the rendezvous. I travelled in Terry Millington’s cab, with Charles, 88 and Hughie, 91, both veterans from World War II. A welcoming party was already in full-swing in the village hall by 10 AM. The whole village seemed to have been up since dawn, making sandwiches and baking cakes. The place was full of veterans, taxi driver, their friends and families, all very happy to see each other. What with Harry Harris, a musician in his late 80’s, playing Fly Me To The Moon on the organ, I had the curious feeling of having gone back in time.
We then drove in convoy down to the South Coast. This time I was in Mickey Small’s Black Cab (actually a yellow Hailo cab) with three other WWII veterans, who sang pretty much all the way to the coast whilst Mickey masterfully dodged the odd British summertime flood on the A24. I was struck by the kindness of the taxi drivers, who give their time for free when they take veterans on these trips. Clearly they hold ‘the old boys’ in great regard.
In Worthing Municipal Hall, we had a great lunch, a few beers courtesy of London Pride, speeches from Sir James Eberie, the charming Mayor and Mayoress of Worthing and Dickie Hudd, the chairman of the charity, and a marvellous performance on one of the few remaining Wurlitzer organs in the country. This magically emerged from beneath the stage to everyone’s delight. A quick jaunt down the to pier for an ice-cream, more tea, cake and beer, then it was back to South Holmwood for yet more tea, cake, beer and goodbyes. The local children gave flowers to all the veterans and then everyone went home, very full, happy, but no doubt as moved as me by the whole experience. As will become clear in my next post, this was a great deal more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane.