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Britain was a fortnight into its first lockdown last spring when Captain Tom Moore shuffled into the nation’s consciousness with his trusty walking frame. The morgues were filling up, hospitals were becoming overwhelmed and Boris Johnson had just been moved into intensive care. For many, this new world of shutdowns and sickness felt alien, destabilising and frightening.
The country badly needed a boost and BBC Breakfast provided it: an interview with a second world war veteran raising money for the NHS by walking up and down his garden 100 times before his 100th birthday. At that point, Moore had raised just over £9,000, smashing his £100 target. He wanted to say thank you for the treatment he had received for skin cancer and a broken hip, as well as celebrate the health service at its time of crisis.
In an era of ultra-marathons and Ironman triathlons, Moore’s modest garden challenge might not have caught the country’s imagination in quite the way it did, were it not for something he said at the end of the interview.
“Just reading all of the things you’ve done: in the second world war you rose to the rank of captain, you’ve seen fighting in India and Burma, you were an instructor at the armoured vehicle school in Bovingdon, you’ve trained regiments in how to use tanks,” said the presenter Naga Munchetty. “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?”
Moore, who was wearing his war medals for the interview, had the perfect answer to soothe the nation’s frazzled nerves. “Remember,” he said in his no-nonsense Yorkshire brogue, “tomorrow is a good day, tomorrow you will maybe find everything will be much better than today.”
It was exactly what we needed to hear. Across the country, piggy banks were raided to donate to this lovely man’s challenge. By the time he turned 100 on 30 April, Moore had raised £32m and become the oldest person to ever have a No 1 hit, with his cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone, recorded alongside Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care choir. By the time of his death on Tuesday – after testing positive for the very disease he was helping the country battle against – his efforts had generated almost £39m of donations to the NHS from 163 countries.
In a pandemic that killed tens of thousands of older Britons before their time, and separated millions more from their loved ones, Moore represented hope. More than that, he represented the best of what we like to think of as British: a can-do attitude, an indefatigable spirit, a determination to always look on the bright side of life. He was Britain’s grandpa, “mustn’t grumble” personified. A twinkly-eyed war hero who had already given the country so much, determined to spend his last days giving even more.
We are not a nation that lionises our elderly people, unlike many Asian countries – nor one that necessarily expects a child to have their parents live with them in old age, as Hannah, one of Moore’s two daughters, did. But we love a centenarian, hoping that one day we too may live long enough to receive the customary birthday greeting from the reigning monarch. The Queen went one better on Moore’s big day, upgrading him from a captain to an honorary colonel and authorising an RAF flypast of his Bedfordshire home. In July, she went further still, knighting him in the grounds of Windsor Castle, her first official engagement in person since the lockdown period began in March.
In a country that invented Comic Relief and Children in Need and the idea of sitting in a bath full of cold baked beans for charity, we also love a good fundraising effort. Moore not only raised more money on his own than almost any individual in British history but inspired countless others to follow his lead.
There was four-year-old Daisy Briggs, told she would never walk after she was born with spina bifida, hydrocephalus and talipes. After seeing Moore on the news, she decided to raise £100 for the NHS in what she called her daily rainbow walk, setting out each day to go 25 metres with her walking frame while wearing a different colour of the rainbow. As of Tuesday, she had raised more than £21,000.
In Sheffield, nine-year-old Tobias Weller, who has cerebral palsy, decided to take his walking frame out and complete a marathon over 70 days in the street outside his home, raising £150,000. One woman completed a marathon by walking laps near her Berkshire home, at the age of 104. “Tom, I’ve done it,” declared Ruth Saunders, as she finished her challenge.
So far, £150m has been raised for the NHS Charities Together Covid-19 appeal, much of it directly because of Moore. The funds provide bereavement support and help isolated patients in hospital stay connected to family and friends through technology, as well as supporting the emotional and practical needs of staff, through counselling programmes and helplines.
Moore was the perfect distraction from the misery engulfing the UK, a reminder of all that is good and pure and a triumph of life over death. So when his family released a statement on Sunday evening saying he had been admitted to hospital with coronavirus and pneumonia, many people felt a jolt of shock. Not Captain Tom! That Covid got him in the end felt particularly brutal, especially when a family spokesman said he wasn’t able to receive the vaccine because of the medication he had been taking for pneumonia.
He is gone now, but never forgotten, a true hero of the UK’s fight against the many strains of this awful virus that continue to bring the country to its knees. If you are feeling sad, remember: tomorrow is a good day. Tomorrow you will maybe find everything will be much better than today.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: How Captain Tom Moore brought hope in the midst of a pandemic | Coronavirus