World War Two veterans enjoyed a screening of ‘Return of the Liberators’ and a sing-song around the piano.
The cinema was full, the audience diverse - people from nearby as well as many who had travelled from afar - and included local representatives from the Royal British Legion Hastings branch, the mayor of Hastings Councillor Judy Rogers, 80-year-old Andrea Goldsmith who had travelled from London especially wearing her father’s medals, and representatives of four generations of the same family.
The other honoured guests were representatives from The London Taxi Benevolent Association for the War Disabled, an organisation run by black cab drivers, who had brought along dozens of passengers, mostly World War II veterans, and the odd friend dressed in vintage military costume. Earlier in the day they had lunched at the Royal Victoria Hotel in St Leonards, parking their vehicles for free in Marina car park, courtesy of Hastings Borough Council.
The event, Acts of Remembrance, took place at the beginning of Remembrance Week, and was put on for free owing to funding from the ESRC Festival of Social Science, a national week-long celebration of the relevance of social science to everyday life.
Gemma Aellah, an anthropologist from the Royal Anthropological Association, talked at the beginning of the event about how people individually, collectively and nationally remember and commemorate the past, and how memories are carried through the generations.
‘Return of the Liberators’, a film made by Hastings resident Janet Hodgson, documents a trip in 2015, involving a convoy of nearly 100 black cabs whose passengers, 120 World War II veterans, make the long trip to Arnhem in The Netherlands to take part in commemorations for the 70th anniversary of Dutch liberation, following the end of WWII in 1945.
Earlier, in 1944, the Allied forces had attempted to free the Dutch from German occupation, but their campaign failed. Yet the Dutch people have to this day remained ever-thankful to the courageous and desperate attempts of the soldiers and their comrades.
The film features a Dutch priest, in present day Arnhem, who describes how British soldiers who had been sent back to Arnhem had walked with their heads held down in shame for not having freed those who were then starved and enslaved by the Germans.
The then mayor had placed his bicycle across their route and forced them passionately to hold their heads high. From that day the people of Holland have celebrated the soldier’s courageous attempts to liberate them, passing on the memories from generation to generation.
One of the guests in the audience was a 96-year-old Dutch great-grandmother – Antonia Francheska Harrington, who had actually witnessed the arrival of British troops in 1945.
The film includes several such tales but also gives voice to the many cabbies, who dedicate so much of their time to this and other acts of charity and friendship.
One of the most moving parts of the film was hearing how mature men take care of older men, seeing in this opportunities to say the things that were never possible to their own fathers. The film also makes several statements about the nature and value of the camaraderie available to us all if we demand it, the way that we value the elderly members of our families and communities, and how they can also be at times alienated and ignored.
Many of the veterans who ‘star’ in the film were present during the screening. Others, it was come to realise, have sadly passed away since the film was made.
“What was wonderful about the event was that it brought together many different generations and people from many different walks of life,” said Janet Hodgson.
“Seeing the film on the big screen for the first time, with such a positive and supportive audience, in such an atmospheric setting, was fantastic. The response was quite humbling.”
Following the screening, the veterans and audience gathered around the piano to sing some Cockney favourites and war-time classics, accompanied by local pianist Robert Connelly, making it truly a remembrance event with a difference.
Visit www.taxicharity.org for more information.
Photos by Russell Jacobs.
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