Part documentary, part road movie – Return of the Liberators (2016) documents an extraordinary road trip organised by a little known charity, The London Taxi Benevolent Association for the War Disabled. Founded in 1948, the charity is run entirely by London’s Black Cab drivers, and aims to improve the lives of British veterans, taking them on trips and organising entertainment for them. Yet most of its work has gone unnoticed, without great acclaim, and very little media interest. 

In May 2015, the charity took 120 World War II veterans – mostly beyond the age of 90 – on a trip to The Netherlands in a convoy of 96 London Black Cabs. The purpose of the trip was to enable the veterans to take part in the Dutch commemorations for the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II.

Produced in association with Creation Company Pictures, and Hogarth and Ogilvy, Return of the Liberators documents this remarkable road trip, whilst exploring the relationships between the charity and the veterans, the Black Cab drivers and the veterans, and the veterans and the Dutch people. Using a combination of observational camerawork and interviews, it takes the form of a travelogue interwoven with short interludes – musical performances, and reflections from cab drivers, veterans who fought in Holland or charity committee members. In the clip featured above, WWII veteran Fred Glover reflects on the idea of freedom, following a service of remembrance during the trip.

Music plays a large part in the film, mainly because it plays such a large part in the veterans’ lives, and a key role in the charity’s encounters with the veterans. Much of the music in the film is sung, played and/or performed by the veterans themselves. Aiming to be an accessible exploration of the themes of commemoration and gratitude, the film explores how people themselves create forms of remembrance, and also explores camaraderie and inter-generational relationships. It looks at remembrance from several different perspectives – cultural and personal, generational and familial, state-sponsored and unofficial, public and private.

The film had its ‘premiere’ in Jul 2016 in the Ogilvy amphitheatre on London’s Southbank, followed by a 1940’s Tea Dance with Swing Patrol London and an impromptu singalong with some of the veterans. It has also been given as a memento of the trip to the veterans and taxi drivers involved on a limited edition commemorative DVD. The film has been selected to be part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science in the Autumn of 2016. There are plans to develop it film further for festival/broadcast submission. Ten clips from the film have been used as content on the charity’s website. So far these have received over 20K views and have attracted a great deal of interest in the charity, which has now reached the final of the National Lottery Awards.

Producer/director: Janet Hodgson
Director of photography: Joe Warburton
Editor: Rachel Begley-Renner
Camera/sound: Max Montgomery/Tom Montgomery

+ Reviews and feedback

‘Congratulations for capturing our memorable trip to Holland so brilliantly.’
(Ian Parsons, charity committee)

‘It captured beautifully the spirit and human relationships of the trip. I found myself smiling with pleasure throughout.’
(Keith Collman, photographer)

‘How can I possibly say ‘thank you’, without also saying the same thing to every member of your committee, to your collectors and especially the taxi drivers for the totally unexpected and most welcome DVD. I have now recovered my composure. I did feel very emotional while watching it and quite sure that I was not alone. It was highly emotional but nonetheless most enjoyable. Really looking forward to sharing it with my family in the future. My gratitude for the incredible generosity of the London Taxi Benevolent Association. May you go from strength to strength: you certainly deserve to.’
(Frank Ashleigh, WWII veteran)