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August-September 2020 | Features

Captain Tom: a beacon of light

Captain Tom: a beacon of light

Meet Captain Sir Tom Moore, the centenarian Rotarian who lifted the spirits of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He is the inspiration to a nation. A man who, in the darkest hours of the COVID-19 pandemic, provided a sense of much-needed hope and determination.

On the eve of his 100th birthday, Captain Tom Moore captured the spirit of the world with the simplest of gestures.

‘Tom’s 100th birthday walk for the NHS’ was targeted with completing one hundred 25-metre laps of the garden at his Bedfordshire home to raise £1,000 for NHS Charities Together.

With just a walking frame to assist, following treatment for cancer and a broken hip, he aimed to complete 10 laps a day.

What began as a quiet, selfless gesture on April 6th, rapidly snowballed into an inconceivable fund-raiser which captured the hearts of the nation, attracted world media attention and 1.5 million donations.

captain tom

He is the inspiration to a nation. A man who, in the darkest hours of the COVID-19 pandemic, provided a sense of much-needed hope and determination.

Suddenly, everyone knew who charming and modest Captain Tom was.

Speaking to BBC News, when the fund-raising had topped the £5 million mark, he explained: “When we started off with this exercise we didn’t anticipate we’d get anything near that sort of money.

“It’s really amazing. All of them, from top to bottom, in the National Health Service, they deserve everything that we can possibly put in their place.

“They’re all so brave. Because every morning or every night they’re putting themselves into harm’s way, and I think you’ve got to give them full marks for that effort.

When we started off with this exercise we didn’t anticipate we’d get anything near that sort of money.”

“We’re a little bit like having a war at the moment. But the doctors and the nurses, they’re all on the front line, and all of us behind, we’ve got to supply them and keep them going with everything that they need, so that they can do their jobs even better than they’re doing now.”

Captain Tom’s life story was being told across the globe. He even featured on a cover version of the song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ with the singer Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care Choir.

The recording went straight to number one, selling almost 36,000 copies in the first 48 hours. Captain Tom became the oldest person to have a number one entry in the UK Singles Chart, beating Tom Jones!

By the time the campaign closed on his 100th birthday on April 30th, he had raised £32.79 million. The day itself was marked by a flypast from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight as he received more than 150,000 birthday cards from well-wishers.

One of those was from Her Majesty, the Queen, who wrote: “I am so pleased to know that you are celebrating your one hundredth birthday on 30th April, 2020.

“I was also most interested to hear of your recent fund-raising efforts for NHS Charities Together at this difficult time.

“I send my congratulations and best wishes to you on such a special occasion. Elizabeth R.”

By the time the campaign closed on his 100th birthday on April 30th, he had raised £32.79 million.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, described Sir Tom as “an example and an inspiration to us all”.

And Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, added: “Colonel Tom’s fantastic fund-raising broke records, inspired the whole country, and provided us all with a beacon of light through the fog of coronavirus.”

The former soldier, who served in India, Burma and Sumatra during the Second World War, was also appointed as an honorary colonel by the Army Foundation College.

Then on July 17th at Windsor Castle, special arrangements were made for the Queen to knight the nation’s hero.

Arise, Captain Sir Thomas Moore!

Commenting on the honour, he said: “I am absolutely overwhelmed. Never for one moment could I have imagined to be awarded with such a great honour.

“I’d like to thank Her Majesty the Queen, the Prime Minister and the great British public. I will remain at your service.

“This started as something small and I’ve been overwhelmed by the gratitude and love from the British public and beyond.

“We must take this opportunity to recognise our frontline heroes of the National Health Service who put their lives at risk every day to keep us safe.”

Captain Tom’s Rotary record is less well known. It was only during a presentation in June via Zoom, of a triple ruby Paul Harris Fellowship, that this very proud Yorkshireman revealed his Rotary roots.

The Paul Harris Fellowship is one of Rotary’s most prestigious honours.

Named after the organisation’s founder, it recognises those who have made substantial contributions to society, humanitarian efforts and charitable works.

Captain Tom’s Rotary record is less well known. It was only during a presentation in June via Zoom, of a triple ruby Paul Harris Fellowship, that this very proud Yorkshireman revealed his Rotary roots.”

On receiving the honour from the then President of Rotary in Great Britain & Ireland, Donna Wallbank, Captain Tom said: “I am absolutely overwhelmed by this honour that you have given me.

“I am thrilled that I have had so many honours and the one which I have got from Rotary is certainly a star amongst them all.”

He added: “Rotary certainly has touched my life. Let us go back to the late 1940s when I was a member of the Round Table in Keighley. We were very active and for a time I was chairman of Keighley Round Table.

https://twitter.com/RotaryGBI/status/1282974434610032640

“We established, and I believe we have still got, a unit for disabled people. We arranged monthly meetings and provided transport for those who attended.

“I was also personally involved in building a rose garden behind the home for blind people in Keighley. We were a very active club at that time.”

It was later, when Captain Tom moved to Cambridgeshire in the 1980s to manage a concrete company, that he joined March Rotary Club.

That news prompted plenty of activity in the Fenland town to look back at the Rotary club’s archives.

Secretary Alan Crossley confirmed that Captain Tom was a member of the club. “He was certainly a member when Bruce Wood was President in 1976,” said Alan. “Bruce can remember the house that he lived in in Welney.”

During the Paul Harris Fellowship presentation, David Straughan, President of Flitwick Vale Rotary Club, conferred an honorary club membership to Captain Tom.

He said: “Rotary’s values are all about going above and beyond to support those who need it most. Our motto is ‘Service Above Self’, and no one has personified that quite like Captain Sir Tom.

“As his local club, we were extremely keen to recognise his achievements.”

Captain Tom responded: “I have been well established with Rotary for a long period of time for which I have been absolutely thrilled and honoured to be a member.

Rotary’s values are all about going above and beyond to support those who need it most. Our motto is ‘Service Above Self’, and no one has personified that quite like Captain Sir Tom.”

“Now to become a member again is something which is absolutely special, as far as I am concerned.”

Rotary GB&I President, Donna Wallbank, praised Captain Tom for the tenacity, courage and passion he’d shown throughout his life.

She added: “But particularly now, when the nation needed a positive focus, because your focus became one which the world followed. And one which we, in Rotary, wish to recognise, as you truly are a person of action and one of inspiration.”

Captain Tom’s daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, who sat beside her father during the Paul Harris Fellowship presentation, said that the family had loved seeing the success and achievements of other fund-raisers, young and old, who had been inspired by her father’s walk.

captain Tom

Captain Tom and his daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore

“The support and togetherness that communities are showing across the country, including by Rotary clubs and volunteers, in such challenging circumstances is really heart-warming,” she said.

Hannah explained that the family has now set up the Captain Tom Foundation.

“This is about inspiring hope where it is needed most, supporting those people in hospices, those who are bereaved and those who are combating loneliness,” she added.

“So life has not stopped for Captain Tom. He continues to reach out to all of those people who need some hope in their lives.”

Asked whether he plans to repeat his fund-raising walk next year, Captain Tom replied: “When you say next year, let’s see whether next year ever comes.

“Yes, if I am still here and I can still walk, I shall continue to do my walks up and down outside the house.

“So long as people go on contributing, I’ll go on walking.”

This September, Penguin Books will be publishing his autobiography entitled ‘Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day’.

So long as people go on contributing, I’ll go on walking.”

Asked what one life lesson he would pass onto today’s generation, Captain Tom replied: “I think you must always consider that the future is going to be better.

“That if today is not a good day, then tomorrow is going to be a better day.

“I have always believed that tomorrow is going to be a good day. That’s what people should do. Things will get better.

“Never ever worry yourself to the state about how terrible things are because soon, and it will happen, things will get better.

“It always will.”

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