On Remembrance Sunday 2020 – London Shoes experienced a ‘first’, when my London cabbie mate Lee, asked me if I wanted to accompany him into London to ‘be there’ for the occasion.
This year’s Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph was a unique occasion, for 2 reasons:-
1. 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the unveiling of London’s symbolic and much revered Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall.
2. Because of the Covid19 virus, it is the first year ever that veterans of the armed forces have not been allowed to participate and attend, to pay their respects and honour their fallen comrades – nor conduct their customary march past the Cenotaph memorial.
The Remembrance Day Service in Whitehall usually sees up to 1,000 military personnel plus 10,000 service veterans and members of public in attendance – but due to the Governments Covid19 restrictions on non-essential journey’s, in an effort to quell the spread of the virus and to protect the health of attendees – only 150 military personnel and 26 former service men & women were allowed to attend the event and be included in the march-past parade.
My mate Lee has been a fully-fledged London cabbie for the past 6 years – having spent just over 4 years prior to that, studying and eventually passing the prestigious and grueling exam that is ‘The Knowledge’.
For the past 6 years Lee has also been a proud member of the much respected ‘Poppy Cabs’ organisation – an initiative that started in 2009 and was set-up by London cabbie ‘Mike Hughes’ – who still organises this support service every year.
Poppy Cabs are a group of licenced London cabbies who give up their time to provide a free service to make it easier for ex service personnel to travel to, from and across London – so that they can attend the Remembrance Day parades at the Cenotaph.
It is estimated that for the 10 years that the ‘Poppy Cabs’ have been in existence, they have probably provided over 10,000 free journeys for veterans.
Whilst the laying of the commemorative wreaths and the march-pasts is taking place at the Cenotaph, the Poppy Cabs line-up along Westminster Bridge.
When the parades are finished Poppy Cab Marshals escort the veterans, some of whom may be disabled, back to their cabs to transport them back to their required destinations, that could be anything from main-line stations – or military personnel accommodations such as the Union Jack Club & the Victory Services Club – or quite simply back to their homes – all free of charge.
Remembrance Sunday is a day when quite simply hundreds of London cabbies and their Poppy Cabs come together to support the country’s veterans – because without the services of the Poppy Cabs, a vast majority of the veterans would simply not be able to attend the Cenotaph event.
London cabbies see their Poppy Cabs as their way in paying back a small part of the debt they feel they owe the service personnel veterans.
However –this year, the Covid19 virus has posed the biggest challenge since Remembrance Day parades began 100 years ago.
This year, the 100th Anniversary of the Cenotaph – the services of the Poppy Cabs was not required as it would be in previous years.
However, out of respect and tradition, my good friend Lee and some of his fellow London cabbies, still wanted to be present for this year’s unique occasion in the history of Remembrance Days – not only to be there for the chiming of Big Ben at the 11th Hour and then observe the 2 Minute Silence – but to also be on hand should any of the ex-service personnel in the area require assistance and transportation.
Although not ‘essential travel’ for me personally – I felt the opportunity to travel up to Westminster to pay my respects and to be part of the, albeit extensively reduced, ‘Poppy Cab’ tradition – especially for this year’s unique Remembrance Day experience – was just too good an opportunity to turn down.
Despite the extraordinarily and extremely visible high volume of Police presence, and the closing of all approach roads and side streets leading into a barricaded and boarded-up Whitehall – to stand in the middle of a cordoned off and almost deserted Westminster Bridge – to hear the chimes of Big Ben at the 11th Hour – to observe the following 2 Minute Silence – to witness all the Thames emergency services paying their respects on the River – to witness the total respect shown by everyone around me, particularly the small number of Poppy Cab drivers who had still ventured up there, knowing full well the uniqueness of the situation – is something that I shall never forget, and I’m so pleased that I am able to capture the experience, via my London Shoes social media portals.
Like everything else in life these days, Covid19 has had a massive impact on the life & times of a London cabbie, as it has with many other jobs, professions and the people behind them – and I really do fear, as do all cabbies – for the future of this iconic, globally recognised, historic 350 year old London profession.
I truly hope that life will return to some kind of normality at some stage soon, and that people wherever they may be from – will get the opportunity to return to see the sights, sounds and people, of this wonderful capital city – and hopefully next year’s Remembrance Day Service, will see the Poppy Cabs back out there in full force.
Hope you enjoy the photos accompanying this blog, and that they help tell-the-tale.
See below the entire gallery of photos taken to accompany this blog