He may have all the qualities of a gritty Yorkshireman but Captain Tom Moore says he’s enjoying the attention that’s come after his heroic effort to raise money for the NHS
By Susan Griffin
Captain Sir Tom Moore has no regrets – “absolutely none”. The 100-year-old who endeared himself to the nation during lockdown, when he raised millions for the NHS by walking laps of his driveway, has sought to live each day to its fullest, and prides himself on a positive but pragmatic approach he attributes to his northern roots.
“I am a proud Yorkshireman through and through,” says Moore who was raised in Keighley. “It’s true to say, being a Yorkshireman has been the foundation of my life. I believe it is to that I owe my resilience, fortitude and integrity.”
It’s these traits that have seen him forge on at his lowest ebb, through war, grief, betrayal and following a near-fatal fall in the winter of 2018.
Deprived of the independence he thrives on, Moore was determined to become mobile again
A lapse of concentration at home in Bedfordshire, which he shares with his daughter Hannah and her family, resulted in Moore hitting his head, fracturing a hip and puncturing a lung. The prognosis was poor, and he instructed doctors not to resuscitate him rather than finish up in an old people’s home needing constant care.
Against the odds, and following a lengthy stint in hospital, he recovered well enough to return home, but for someone who was still driving and travelling the globe well into his nineties, Moore admits the rehabilitation process has been long and gruelling, hampered by infection and a skin cancer diagnosis.
Deprived of the independence he thrives on, Moore was determined to become mobile again and set about moving with the aid of a walker. And so it was, on Sunday 5 April, he tentatively headed outdoors, for the first time in weeks, to enjoy the spring sunshine and try to walk a lap of the 25 metre driveway. When his son-in-law, Colin, offered to donate £1 per lap for charity, Moore realised there was an opportunity to raise money for the NHS workers who’d looked after him, as well as a chance to regain his confidence.
The aim was to complete 100 laps before his 100th birthday on 30 April. A fundraising page was duly set up and word began to spread about the humble but heroic Walk with Tom challenge. Very soon, Moore was a regular on radio and TV and trending on social media.
With the nation in lockdown due to Covid-19, the disillusioned public found something positive to focus on and donations started flooding into the Just Giving site, causing it to crash due to demand.
In the ITV documentary The Life & Times of Captain Sir Tom Moore, historian Dominic Sandbrook observed: “He seems to personify virtues we think we have lost with his wartime background, his longevity and as a family man. He became the perfect avatar of what we would like to think Britain could be.”
Within days, Moore had raised millions for the NHS – the final total was £38.9 million – earning him the Guinness World Record for the most money raised by a charity walk.
He earned another for becoming the oldest person to reach the number one spot for his rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone with Michael Ball and was thrilled to receive a Hurricane and Spitfire flyover to mark his 100th birthday, with pictures of him punching the air going viral.
While others might be embarrassed by the spotlight, the war veteran admits he enjoys the adulation, as bizarre as it has been.
“Being interviewed by journalists from all over the world and being recognised wherever I go has been the strangest thing,” says Moore, who was made an honorary colonel, and knighted by the Queen at Windsor Castle in July.
“It was such an honour,” he says and notes they’re his greatest achievements alongside “defending my country, my daughters, and my fundraising endeavours”.
Now he’s published his memoirs, Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day – the mantra he lives by – in which he describes the triumphant as well as tumultuous periods in his life, which began in the aftermath of the First World War and the final wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic.
Growing up in Yorkshire with his mother Isabella, father Wilfred, who’d been left profoundly deaf following an illness, and older sister Freda, it was a simple but happy childhood.
Although there was no electricity, their home was relatively modern and Moore has vivid memories of Sunday trips to Sandsend Beach in Whitby in the family’s first car, visiting the local picture house to watch silent movies, and spending hours exploring the moors with his dog Billy, who he named after his beloved uncle.
Renowned in the area for his motorcycle skills, Uncle Billy was a hugely influential figure in Moore’s formative years and prompted his own lifelong passion for motorbikes. When he died from car fumes in 1936, the teenage Moore helped to move his body, something that haunts him to this day, not least because the family never talked about his passing or the circumstances surrounding it.
By his own admission, Moore wasn’t the most astute pupil, but shared the dogged determination and practical capabilities of his namesake grandfather, who’d built a successful building business despite being illiterate.
Intent on becoming a civil engineer, the ambitious young Moore was making steady progress when war was announced and he was conscripted into the British Army, to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.
He was posted to north Cornwall before heading to India, a country where “we were assaulted on all sides by clamour and chaos and colour. I loved it”, he writes.
Moore approached his time in the military with characteristic resolve to rise through the ranks (“I was determined to show my mettle as a soldier wherever I could”) and was made a second lieutenant. He used his knowledge of motorcycles to train soldiers in how to traverse challenging terrain and fought
in the brutal Burma Campaign.
As he details in the book, soldiers were given a tablet of cyanide to swallow as it was deemed preferable to being captured by the Japanese and, in 1944, he was promoted to captain.
The routine of army life suited Moore but he was demobbed when the war was over and returned to Yorkshire, where he joined the family’s building firm and adjusted to civilian life. Much like his uncle’s demise, the war was never discussed.
In his late twenties, Moore met a girl called Billie through friends and they married in 1949. He acknowledges now they didn’t really know one another and candidly reveals in the book the unconsummated marriage “represents the darkest period of my life… I felt as if I had sunk into a deep hole and couldn’t get out”.
Professionally, it was tough, too, when the family business was forced to close in 1959 due to financial problems.
Moore found himself adrift, trying his hand at different jobs in order to make ends meet, including work as a quarry labourer and a door-to-door salesman. He found the latter soul-destroying, but it led to a better paid job and the opportunity to progress.
Over the next few years, Moore changed jobs frequently, earning more money with each contract. He was away a lot, but recalls his shock when Billie announced she’d got a job of her own, as an assistant to a doctor who treated people with sexual disorders, and not long after, told Moore she was moving in with him.
The set-up didn’t last but Moore realised it was the out he was looking for and left the marriage, as well as everything to her.
His second marriage to Pamela, who he’d met years before when they worked at the same company, was a lot happier, despite paranoid tendencies she was being spied on, something Moore believes her mother had instilled in her during the war years.
They married in 1968 in Gravesend, Kent and Lucy and Hannah arrived in quick succession soon after. Moore was a hands-on dad from the outset and, aware he was that much older, taught his daughters the practical skills he felt they’d need when he wasn’t around.
He later retired with a substantial pension and along with Pamela and Hannah moved to the Costa del Sol where they lived a content life until Pamela began to display worrying signs of forgetfulness and confusion.
At 65, she was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder that ultimately required full-time residential care. Moore visited her every day until her death in 2006, poignantly noting: “She had brought more happiness than I ever thought possible in the second half of my life.”
Moore moved in with Hannah, and continued to travel the world, including Nepal to glimpse Mount Everest.
“Life is to be lived, and I’ve always believed that age is no barrier to living it,” remarks Moore of his wanderlust tendencies, and now, even in the closing chapters of his life, he remains ever determined and forward-thinking.
“I can still cook a Sunday roast for all the family,” he says when asked what would surprise people about him, and he’s busy making plans.
A drive across America’s Route 66 is on the bucket list, and there’s also the Captain Tom Foundation, a new endeavour he hopes will help to combat loneliness and support the bereaved.
“Some people can’t bear the thought of death, but I draw strength from it. Enjoy what you have today and don’t be miserable about it,” Moore writes in his memoirs, and he’s eager to remind people not to feel disillusioned, however hopeless things might seem.
“At the end of the storm there’s a golden sky and the sweet silver song of the lark,” he says, quoting lyrics from the song that made him a chart-topper. “And of course, tomorrow will be a good day.”
‘I was a quiet little soul’
“All I did was go for a walk, but it seemed to touch a nerve. As I ticked off my laps slowly and steadily, step by step, 10 each day, my modest little fundraiser went viral… As the money kept flooding in, so I kept walking. The entire adventure was so surreal and exciting that it really put a spring back in my step and I thoroughly enjoyed every second.
“Never in my almost 100 years on this Earth could I have imagined just how much we would go on to raise. Before all this happened, I was a quiet little soul living out my days peacefully and reflecting back on my life… After my walk, though, it seemed that everyone not only knew my name, but also wanted to know much more about me…
“Everyone keeps saying that what I did was remarkable, when it was actually what everyone did for me and for the whole country that was remarkable. It has certainly filled me with a renewed sense of purpose.”
Excerpt from Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day, published by Michael Joseph
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