The obituary in the Telegraph of an inspiring great Briton who died today.
Moore walking a lap of his garden, in April 2020 | CREDIT: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
Captain Sir Tom Moore, who has died aged 100, was a Second World War veteran who became Britain’s national hero and mascot in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, raising millions of pounds for charity on the eve of his 100th birthday and providing a baffled and dismayed nation with a badly needed measure of inspiration and comfort.
When the UK entered lockdown at the end of March 2020, Moore had come no closer to fame than appearing as a contestant on the television game show Blankety Blank in 1983. Yet within a few weeks he was known to the whole country and much of the rest of the world as “Captain Tom”, gaining affection and respect for his optimism and sense of fun as much as his charitable endeavours.
Moore, who lived with his daughter and her family in the village of Marston Moretaine near Milton Keynes, embarked on the path to celebrity in early April, when he came up with the idea of raising money for NHS charities – and marking his approaching centenary – by walking 100 laps of his garden over the course of 10 days.
This was no light feat for a man who, in the previous few years, had broken his hip, been treated for skin cancer, and had his knees replaced. But Moore was deeply grateful for the care that both he and his late wife had received from the NHS, and felt a kinship with the doctors and nurses finding themselves, at the peak of the pandemic, beleaguered: “I was once on the front line. They are now,” he observed.
His aim was to raise £1,000, and his family contacted the local press to drum up support. A picture of Moore embarking on his first laps, supported by a walking frame on which were balanced his stick and panama hat, captured the imagination of news editors.
Within four days he appeared on BBC Breakfast. When the presenter Naga Munchetty asked him to provide the nation with a reassuring message, he responded with what was to become a familiar mantra: “Remember, tomorrow is a good day, tomorrow you will maybe find everything will be much better than today.”
Perambulating round his garden in all weathers, impeccably clad in blazer and tie and wearing his campaign medals, Moore rapidly became the focus of intense media attention.
He completed his 100th lap on the morning of April 16, flanked by a guard of honour (standing some feet away from him, in line with social-distancing rules) from 1st Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment (into which his old Regiment, Duke of Wellington’s, had been merged). He expressed pleasure at being “surrounded by the right sort of people”.
Earlier that day Moore had been serenaded by Michael Ball, who sang You’ll Never Walk Alone to him live on the BBC. Within 24 hours Ball’s performance, along with words spoken by Moore, was released as a charity single; it went straight to the top of the charts, making Moore the oldest person ever to have a No 1 hit. (The singer The Weeknd, who had been expected to reach No 1 that week, urged his fans to support Moore’s single.)
By the time Moore’s fundraising campaign ended on April 30, the day of his 100th birthday, he had raised more than £32 million – more than five times the previous record set on JustGiving.
For his birthday he received 180,000 cards – and 170 portraits of himself from artistic admirers. Sat in his trusty walker, he pumped his fist in the air as a Hawker Hurricane and a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain’s Memorial Flight performed a fly-past in his honour. Later in the day there was a second fly-past from two Army Air Corps helicopters. He also received the news that he was to be made Honorary Colonel of the Army Foundation College in Harrogate.
“People keep saying what I have done is remarkable; however, it’s actually what you have done for me which is remarkable,” he told his public. “The past three weeks have put a spring back in my step.”
The honours continued to roll in – including a gold Blue Peter badge – and on May 19 the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that Moore would receive a knighthood, a buoyant conclusion to perhaps the most remarkable six-week period ever experienced by a nonagenarian.
The Queen conferred the knighthood on Moore on July 17 in the quadrangle at Windsor Castle, using her father’s sword; it was the first time she had been seen in public since the beginning of lockdown.
The sight of the two superannuated figures in conference together – having both lived through so many of the alarms and crises of modern British history – was deeply moving. With an endearingly unfashionable insistence on keeping his counsel, Moore refused to tell the assembled press what the Queen had said to him.
Inevitably his rapid rise to celebrity attracted the attention of cranks, and his family had to rebut suggestions that they were using the funds raised to line their own pockets. Others grumbled that Moore’s daughter worked in business brand development and thus had cannily turned her father into a star when he was no more worthy of special attention than any number of fundraisers.
The carpers missed what was patently obvious to most people: that Captain Tom was the right man at the right time. To begin with, he was one of the last surviving veterans of the war, and still performing heroics just as the country was gearing up to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day on May 8.
With the Queen having invoked the words of Vera Lynn – “we will meet again” – in her televised address to the nation on April 5, Moore’s generation was in everybody’s thoughts – and there was comfort to be had in the contemplation of somebody who had faced darker threats than Covid-19 still thriving.
Then there was the way in which Moore reflected the public’s impatience in the face of the lockdown restrictions – he was more concerned about the cancellation of the cricket season than the possibility that he might catch the virus. Like most of his compatriots, he was longing more than anything “to walk around the streets and say hello to people”.
Finally there was his personality, which appealingly combined lack of affectation with palpable pleasure in his new fame. “It’s a bit overwhelming,” he admitted, “but to say I’m not enjoying it wouldn’t be the entire truth.”
Thomas Moore was born at Keighley, West Yorkshire, on April 30 1920; his mother was a headmistress and his father a builder. “I didn’t have teddy bears,” he recalled. “My father would bring me a piece of wood and some nails and let me hammer nails into the wood. When I had done that he would bring me a bigger hammer.”
He inherited a love of motorcycles from his father and his uncle Billy, a daredevil amateur racer. Aged 12 he bought his first motorcycle, a broken 1920 Royal Enfield two-stroke, for two shillings and sixpence, and worked on it until it was rideable. Later on he won several trophies in vintage motorcycle races.After Keighley Grammar School he embarked on an apprenticeship as a civil engineer before being conscripted in 1940. Initially he was in Cornwall with 8th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, then transferred to 9th Battalion, a tank regiment, and sailed to India. He vividly remembered the journey from Bombay to Poona: “The ‘air-conditioning’ on the large galvanised train was just a big block of ice.”
He was appointed Brigade Motorcycle Trainer and would test trainees with a round-trip to Bombay, principally because he had a lady friend there: “She was delightful, so lovely that I started rushing the men through their training just so I could get to her every weekend.”
Later on he survived dengue fever in Calcutta – “I lost so much weight that one Lieutenant Colonel, who was walking behind me, said: ‘Moore, you haven’t got a bottom. You’ve only got tops of legs’” – and then went with the 14th Army to Burma, making use of his motorcycling expertise as a dispatch rider.
Having survived countless lonely journeys through bamboo forests and scrubland without mishap, he ended the war as an instructor at the Armoured Vehicle Fighting School, Bovington, and was demobbed in the rank of captain in 1946.
“I look back on my service in the Army as a very enjoyable time,” he said in old age. “There was so much comradeship between us. If I was capable, I’d do the same thing all over again.” He organised an annual DWR reunion dinner for 65 years until, as he put it, “finally I was the only one answering my own invitation.”
After the war he joined the Young Conservatives, and worked for the family building firm until it went bust in 1959; thereafter he was variously a roofer, a quarryman and a door-to-door salesman for Woman’s Own.
Meanwhile he had married his first wife, Billie, in 1949, but the union was, he later said, “the darkest period of my life”; she suffered from mental health problems – “she was deeply anxious and obsessed with cleaning” – and the marriage was unconsummated. Eventually she left him for her psychiatrist.
He became works manager of a building supplies firm in Manchester and in 1968 married Pamela Paull, his office manager. They had two daughters and, following his father’s example, Moore gave them tool kits as children instead of dolls: “They have been practical ever since.”
He was subsequently managing director of a concrete company in Norfolk, and at 67 retired with his wife to the Costa del Sol. They returned to England after she developed a degenerative brain condition; she died in 2006.
Thereafter Moore lived harmoniously with his daughter’s family, cooking lunch every Sunday and fixing the lawnmower. He rose at 6.30 every day for a breakfast of porridge and continued to enjoy sweet wine, cream and chocolate, but weighed the same as he had at 21. In his nineties he visited India and Nepal, and drove a car until he was 99.
On becoming a household name as he entered his second century, he set up the Captain Tom Foundation, designed to combat loneliness, help the bereaved and support hospices.
He went on to publish his autobiography, Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day, as well as a version for children, One Hundred Steps. Asked if he had any remaining ambitions he replied: “I need to live a little bit longer, so I can read back all of these books I’m writing.” But he did fulfil a long-held wish by spending Christmas in Barbados, courtesy of a complimentary flight from British Airways. Subsequently he was admitted to hospital after being treated for pneumonia and testing positive for Covid-19.
His daughters survive him.
Sir Tom Moore, born April 30 1920, died February 2 2021
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