British World War II veteran Captain Tom Moore
British World War II veteran Captain Tom Moore, poses with his walking frame doing a lap of his garden in the village of Marston Moretaine, 50 miles north of London Image Credit: AFP

Arise Captain Sir Thomas Moore. At 100 years of age, you have raised millions of pounds for charity and raised the spirits of many millions more during the dark ages of this coronavirus pandemic, and if ever there was a knighthood deserved, you have earned it along with the respect of many, many people.

Two months ago, we were only all coming to grips with this pandemic. You? You took it by the scruff of the neck, stomped on it with your walking frame and inspired us all with five feisty words: “Tomorrow will be a good day”.

Captain Tom, then 99 and just days off his 100th birthday, decided he wanted to do something to help the nurses, doctors, careworkers toiling away in his local hospital and care facilities. So, he set out to raise the sum of £1,000 — a little under Dh5,000.

Captain Tom, I know I speak for the whole country when I say, ‘We wish you a very happy 100th birthday’, Johnson said in a televised message. “Your heroic efforts have lifted the spirits of the entire nation. You’ve created a channel to enable millions to say a heartfelt thank you to the remarkable men and women in our NHS who are doing the most astounding job

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The idea was simple enough. He had 10 days to go before becoming a centenarian. His hip was on the mend from a fracture — hey, they say that when you get old if it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t work — and he needs a walking frame to help him toddle around.

So, he set his sights on doing 10 laps of his daughter’s modest garden in Bedfordshire, about 40 minutes in good traffic north and to the west of London. If people sponsored him doing his 10 laps a day over 10 days, he might raise that £1,000.

Captain Tom was born in time when there was no such thing as Facebook or WhatsApp. Telephones were few and far between, telegrams were only occasions of great joy or painful grief, and telling someone far away meant penning a letter. Snail mail.

One of his daughters, Hannah Ingram-Moore, thought it might make a nice little story for the local media, and so on 7 April her consultancy firm, Maytrix, knocked up a press release heralding his mission.

The release included a photograph of the then 99-year-old wearing a navy blue fleece, pushing a walking frame on which was balanced a panama hat and his stick.

“We are all being rightly advised to stay home, stay safe and protect our NHS, and that is exactly what local 99-year-old Tom Moore is doing,” the copy began — and, with it, one of the most startlingly successful fund-raising stories of our time.

The global media onslaught began in Milton Keynes, where the press release caught the eye of Damien Lucas, head of news for a group of local newspapers.

Within a few hours the story was on Bedford Today with a headline about the ambitions of a “Bedford man” and his 100th birthday challenge, inspired by the treatment he received from the NHS after breaking his hip and for skin cancer.

A local television report followed and by 10 April, Good Friday, Captain Tom was live on BBC Breakfast. “You have lived, and you have seen some tough times in this country, can you inspire people who are watching now, just reassure them, it will be fine?” asked Naga Munchetty. “Remember,” he said, “tomorrow is a good day, tomorrow you will maybe find everything will be much better than today.”

A star was born. The BBC Breakfast team watched, staggered, as donations to Captain Tom’s Just Giving Page went from £1,000 to a million and beyond. Before long, their rivals on Good Morning Britain had pickup up the story, with Piers Morgan pledging £10,000 of his own money.

Second World War veteran Captain Tom Moore
Second World War veteran Captain Tom Moore poses with birthday cakes as he celebrates his 100th birthday, in Bedford, England, Thursday April 30, 2020. Image Credit: AP

Back in Marston Moretaine, a small village about 20 kilometres from Milton Keynes, journalists and well-wishers began congregating outside the house Captain Tom shares with Hannah and her family, hoping to catch a glimpse of their hero doing his laps.

On 16 April Moore finished his challenge live on BBC Breakfast surrounded by a guard of honour from the 1st Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment.

By 20 April he had raised over £20 million and had recorded a duet with Michael Ball that was on its way to Number 1 in the charts.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however. Too many journalists and press photographers were intruding for too long on the family home, and there were vicious and false rumours circulating on social media that Maytrix and the family was profiting from it all.

None of it was true. In fact, the family could no longer cope with the deluge of cards and presents arriving from around the world.

So many cards came that Bedford School, where Captain Tom’s grandson Benji is a pupil, turned over its hall to house them. Then some of its classrooms for the spillover.

The Royal Mail itself issued a special postmark to celebrate the hero. And then on his birthday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wished him happy birthday, Queen Elizabeth sent her celebratory telegram and a wartime Spitfire and Hurricane flew over Marston Moretaine.

His face was plastered over Piccadilly Circus, he was made an honour Colonel and the world is a better place because of his selfishness.

“Captain Tom, I know I speak for the whole country when I say, ‘We wish you a very happy 100th birthday’, Johnson said in a televised message. “Your heroic efforts have lifted the spirits of the entire nation. You’ve created a channel to enable millions to say a heartfelt thank you to the remarkable men and women in our NHS who are doing the most astounding job.”

It’s all a far cry from growing up in West Yorkshire where his father was a builder and mother a schoolteacher.

He was conscripted in 1940 and spent much of the Second World War stationed in Mumbai and Kolkata with the Royal Armoured Corps — then in Myanmar and Sumatra after the Japanese surrender in September 1945.

Most of Moore’s post-war career was spend as a manager with roofing company, and he and his wife Pamela, whom he married in 1968, had two daughters. Pamela sadly died in 2006, and he moved to Marston Moretaine in 2008 to be with daughter Hannah.

His autobiography will be published by Penguin in September. The title? “Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day”.

With inputs from agencies

Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign correspondent based in Europe