Lat Saturday, the London Taxi Benevolent Association for the War Disabled escorted a group of WW2 veterans, plus entourage, to the small but perfectly formed Chalke Valley History Festival in Wiltshire, where all things historical are celebrated and explored. It all came about following a chance meeting last year between myself and all-round WW2 expert and historian James Holland, who I told about the charity and how I’d been arranging events where the veterans sing. Since I began working with the charity several years ago, one of my aims has been for its work with the veterans to be seen in new contexts, and by more people, so when James suggested we bring some of the singing veterans along to his festival, it was too good an opportunity to miss. Thankfully, the charity was up for it! So…many months of planning later, there we all were.
The veterans, cabbies and charity committee members were invited into the beautiful Green Room marquee, where they were treated with great respect and care by the festival staff, and where they met, amongst others, Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow and Nicholas Soames MP, Winston Churchill’s grandson.
In the evening, at the ‘Victory Ball’, Danny McCrudden, now in his early 90’s, took to the stage, singing with the wonderful London Swing Orchestra to rapturous applause, whilst some of the other veterans took to the floor, much to the delight of some of the women in the crowd decked out in vintage 1940’s garb, who danced with the veterans like there was no tomorrow.
As always seems to be the case, people seemed to be genuinely surprised, as well as charmed, to see such elderly men out enjoying themselves, having a pint with their old comrades, dancing and singing. It may be going too far to say that it is largely down to the effort, energy and commitment of the charity committee, their wives, and the London cabbies, that these veterans are still so joyful and full of life, but I don’t think it’s far wrong. Many of the veterans have told me that it is precisely these kinds of experiences that keep them young, and that give their lives meaning. Long may it all continue!
With thanks to the London Swing Orchestra, James Holland and all the staff and organisers at the Chalke Valley History Festival.