Farewell Captain Tom, the passing of a true British hero

Captain Sir Tom Moore, World War II veteran, honorary colonel and fundraiser of over £32 million for NHS charities, has passed away aged 100 after contracting coronavirus.

The centenarian who initially hoped to raise £1000 by walking 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday in April 2020, tested positive for the virus in late January whilst suffering from pneumonia. The army veteran was first admitted to Bedford Hospital on 12 January when he was diagnosed with pneumonia and was discharged ten days later. On the day of his discharge, Captain Tom tested positive for the virus and was re-admitted on Sunday 31 January but due to medication he was taking, he was unable to receive the Covid-19 vaccination. His daughters, Lucy and Hannah, said they “shared laughter and tears” with their father in their last hours together on February 2.

The family of Captain Tom has received a private message from the Queen expressing her condolences and a public statement from Buckingham Palace was shared on social media, “Her Majesty very much enjoyed meeting Captain Sir Tom and his family at Windsor last year. Her thoughts and those of the Royal Family are with them.” Moore was knighted in May last year by the Queen after receiving a special nomination from Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Captain Tom was also the recipient of numerous other honorary awards including the Pride of Britain Award, the Key to the City of London and a Gold Blue Peter Badge.

Among the many feats, Moore is the oldest person to have a No.1 single after the singer Michael Ball sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” live on BBC Breakfast to mark his 100th length. The record was then produced as a single featuring the NHS Voices of Care Choir and Captain Tom himself. The record topped the Big Top 40 chart and sold over 35,000 copies within 48 hours. It debuted at number 1 on the weekly UK Singles Chart making Moore a record-breaker on his 100th birthday.

Moore was the recipient of an astounding 160,000 birthday cards and a fly-past from the iconic World War II Spitfire and Hurricane aircrafts on his birthday when he completed his final lap as an honour guard from his old regiment- the 1st Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, saluted his achievement.

The Prime Minister called Moore “a hero in the truest sense of the word” in a tribute on social media and announced that the British flag would be flown at half-mast at Downing Street to honour him. Other public figures like Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also expressed their condolences and a moment of silence in both Houses of Parliament took place on February 3. A national clap for the veteran was encouraged on the same day with millions of people taking part across the country to applaud the life and legacy of Captain Sir Tom Moore.

The Greatest Generation

Captain Tom was one of the last members of the greatest generation and a dwindling breed of heroes who sacrificed life and limb to serve during the Second World War. Moore was born in 1920 in the West Riding of Yorkshire to a family of successful builders in an era defined by the Spanish Flu pandemic- the deadliest virus in history, and the legacy of the First World War. Having survived Scarlet Fever as a child and completing his formal education at Keighley Grammar School, young Tom had only just started his apprenticeship in civil engineering when the Second World War broke out in Europe. Moore was conscripted into the 8th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in 1940 and was stationed in Cornwall where he was selected for officer training, eventually being commissioned to second lieutenant.

In 1941, Moore joined the Royal Armoured Corps and was transferred to the 9th Battalion in India where he was tasked with organising a training programme for army motorcyclists to operate as dispatch riders. Being a keen motorcycle enthusiast, it was the perfect challenge for a young officer who had previously competed in competitions in the foothills of west Yorkshire. Operating as a dispatch rider was dangerous work as riders often rode alone and at night using rudimentary roads and forest tracks, risking the constant threat of an ambush by Japanese forces. Moore describes the role of the riders in his autobiography Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day ‘they played a vital role in maintaining secure communications between headquarters and the troops… if the enemy spotted you then they’d do their best to intercept, read and destroy the messages, which usually resulted in the death of the poor devil carrying them.’

Moore was initially posted to Bombay (modern-day Mumbai) and then to Calcutta (modern-day Kolkata). As part of the “Forgotten Army” which served in the Burma Campaign but was overshadowed by the war in Europe and Africa. Promoted to temporary Captain in 1944, it was in Arakan (modern-day Myanmar) where he contracted and survived the tropical disease Dengue Fever.

Captain Tom returned to Britain in February 1945 to enter an engineering training course on Churchill tanks and become an instructor. He did not return to the regiment as he took on the position of Technical Adjutant of the Armoured Vehicle Fighting School in Bovington Camp of Dorset, until he was demobilised in early 1946.

After leaving the army in 1960, Moore initially struggled to find comfortable employment during the post-war period but eventually became a sales manager for a roofing company in Yorkshire, and later the managing director of a concrete manufacturing company.

Captain Tom was first married in 1949 to a woman referred to as “Billie” but the couple divorced, and he later married Pamela in 1968. The two had a long and happy marriage, having two daughters, Lucy and Hannah. In later years, Pamela developed a form of dementia and spent her time in a nursing home, where Moore would visit her every day. She passed away in 2006.

Captain Sir Tom Moore is survived by his two children, Lucy and Hannah, and four grandchildren. He remains the individual who has raised the most money through a charity walk having collected over £32 million from over 1.5 million donations from 53 countries.