SALLY O’Connor, proprietor of the Spitfire Cafe in Main Road, joined 95 World War II veterans on an “emotional” visit to the battlegrounds of Normandy, famed for the D-Day landings.
The journey to Northern France was the last large-scale trip organised by the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, formerly known as The London Benevolent Association for War Disabled, as the number of veterans able to travel declines.
Big-hearted drivers of London’s iconic black cabs were on hand to transport the veterans, the oldest of whom was 99-year-old Albert Gardner. Setting off from Biggin Hill on Sunday, the delegation’s first stop was Portsmouth harbour, where they were met by the city’s lord mayor, Ken Ellcome.
On Monday, the veterans travelled to Caen, France and were greeted by school children and families who lined the streets while waving Union Jack flags. They visited the Pegasus Bridge for a ceremony commemorating the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, when the allied forces began the liberation of mainland Europe from Nazi Germany’s occupation.
On Tuesday there was a visit to Ranville War Cemetery, where the group attended The Royal British Legion Service of Remembrance and laid wreaths. At Normandy’s Gold Beach, veterans chatted to the former Ukip leader, Nigel Farage.
Sally said: “It was lovely to see so many people cheering on the veterans. A very emotional time for everyone.
“After the day’s events, the veterans would go back to the hotel and end up in the bar and have a good old sing song.”
Sally is hosting a get-together at Biggin Hill airport’s Festival of Flight event in August and plans to raise money for the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans. She hopes to be joined by World War II veterans, Chelsea Pensioners and members of the armed forces.
Graham Pike, London taxi driver and member of the charity’s committee, said: “The veterans gave their best years for the freedom that we enjoy today, so it’s only right that we cabbies give back our time to them as they grow old.
"When these brave men and women travel across Europe in a convoy of iconic London taxis, people line-up at the side of the road to wave and cheer because they know where we are from and what we stand for.
“We never forget the sacrifice of those who didn’t return home.”