Captain Tom Moore, the war veteran who raised millions for NHS and inspired a nation

Moore poses during a lap of his garden in April 2020 (AFP/Getty)
Moore poses during a lap of his garden in April 2020 (AFP/Getty)

Captain Tom Moore, who has died aged 100, was a Second World War veteran who captured the hearts and imaginations of a nation when he raised £33m for the NHS as he approached his centenary during Britain’s first coronavirus lockdown.

Sporting three military medals, the Yorkshire-born former army officer who fought in the Burma campaign completed 100 laps of his Bedfordshire garden over 10 days in April 2020 – aided by his walking frame.

Before he began the last leg of the 2,530-yard birthday walk, he was saluted by four soldiers of the Yorkshire Regiment in an emotional moment witnessed by television viewers around the world.

Read more: Tributes pour in to Captain Tom Moore

Guinness World Records confirmed him as the fundraiser raising the greatest amount of money for an individual charity walk.

Moore not only beat his JustGiving page target of £1,000 – which he had regarded as optimistic – but became a media superstar.

As Covid-19 took hold and hospitals faced a torrent of new cases, he offered BBC Breakfast television viewers hope with the words: “We will get through it in the end. It will all be right, but it might take time. All the people finding it difficult at the moment, the sun will shine again and the clouds will go away.”

His birthday on 30 April was marked with an RAF flypast as he sat in his garden. “Raising a clenched fist, I punched the air and cheered along with everyone else, thrilled to bits by this timely reminder of all that helps make this country great,” Moore recalled in his autobiography, Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day, published several months later.

This meteoric rise to stardom continued when he became the oldest performer to reach No 1 in the singles chart, teaming up with singer Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care Choir for a cover version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

The recording began with Moore’s gently spoken words: “When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high…”

The veteran and his daughter Hannah celebrate his 100th birthday with an RAF flypastGetty
The veteran and his daughter Hannah celebrate his 100th birthday with an RAF flypastGetty

It went straight to the top of the chart after selling 82,000 copies and, like his garden walk, all the proceeds went to the NHS Charities Together fund.

The accolades kept coming, with Moore made an honorary colonel by the Yorkshire-based Army Foundation College on his birthday and knighted by the Queen in an investiture at Windsor Castle last July, making him Captain Sir Thomas Moore.

He finished 2020 by winning the Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony, an honour given for “outstanding achievement in the face of adversity” and named after the sports presenter who died of cancer at the age of 43.

The inspirational story of Captain Tom came to a sad end when he was diagnosed with Covid-19 himself and died of the virus after being treated for pneumonia.

Read more: Captain Tom Moore dies aged 100

Thomas Moore was born in Keighley, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1920, at the end of the final wave of another pandemic, Spanish flu, which killed up to 50 million people worldwide.

His father, Wilfred, worked in the family building business, while his mother, Isabella (née Hird), was a teacher.

Thomas – who counted future politician Denis Healey as a fellow pupil at his junior school – became a motorcycle enthusiast in his teens, influenced by his Uncle Billy, who was a hill-climbing trials rider and taught his nephew the basics of engineering and mechanics.

On leaving Keighley Grammar School aged 15, Moore did a three-year apprenticeship with a Keighley water engineer, then took a civil engineering course at Bradford Technical College.

The Queen knights Moore at Windsor Castle in July last yearAFP/Getty
The Queen knights Moore at Windsor Castle in July last yearAFP/Getty

In 1940, he was conscripted for wartime service with the 8th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, armed with a machine gun to guard a decoy airfield and patrol the cliffs on the Cornish coast as Spitfires battled with German Messerschmitts overhead.

When he was commissioned as a second lieutenant the following year, he became a member of the Royal Armoured Corps and was posted to India, where he trained his fellow soldiers in tank warfare and motorcycling.

Moving on, he survived dengue fever while fighting the Japanese in Burma (now Myanmar) before returning to Britain in early 1945 to attend a technical adjutants’ course with the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School, at Bovington Camp, Dorset.

As a fully fledged captain instructor, he trained troops there and, for a while, at Catterick Barracks, in Yorkshire, before being demobilised in 1946.

He was awarded four medals, the 1939-1945 Star, the Burma Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-1945.

For more than 60 years, he organised reunions of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

Back in civvy street, Moore worked for the family building firm as a lorry driver and helping to secure new contracts.

His marriage in 1949, at the age of 29, to a woman called Billie was never consummated – “the darkest period of my life”, he described it as, adding that he believed his wife had mental health issues.

He concentrated on competing at motorcycle time trials and building up the building business – but it folded in 1959.

A job as a labourer in a quarry briefly satisfied his enthusiasm for the mechanics of heavy machinery.

Then, selling Woman’s Own magazine door-to-door led him to meet a business executive whose roofing-material company, Nuralite, based in Kent, was looking for a travelling sales rep across Cheshire and Manchester.

Jobs followed as reps for businesses selling water pumps and industrial conveyor belts, and for an industrial dewatering company that drained land.

Eventually, Billie told Moore that she was leaving him for her psychiatrist and, in 1967, he sought an annulment of the marriage.

His fundraising efforts made him a media superstarAFP/Getty
His fundraising efforts made him a media superstarAFP/Getty

He returned to work for Nuralite and fell for its office manager, Pamela Paull. To speed up their wedding, in 1968, he admitted adultery to obtain a divorce.

His career continued with a job as sales manager at concrete manufacturer Cawood Wharton & Co, based at its south London headquarters. He was quickly promoted to technical manager, then managing director.

In 1981, to ensure its survival, the company moved to the Cambridgeshire Fenland town of March.

Moore turned its fortunes around and when, two years later, it was to be merged with another business, he organised a management buyout and a change of name to March Concrete Products.

When, in 1987, it was bought by ARC, he sought assurances that the staff would be taken on.

An early, brief skirmish with fame came when Moore appeared as a contestant, alongside Freddie Starr, Beryl Reid and Patrick Moore, in a 1983 episode of the BBC television gameshow Blankety Blank, presented by Terry Wogan.

In retirement, Moore and his wife spent four years on the Costa del Sol before returning to Britain in 1993 after Pamela showed early signs of dementia.

Following her death in 2006, Moore moved to Bedfordshire to live with his younger daughter, Hannah.

She and Lucy, the other daughter of his second marriage, survive him.

Captain Sir Thomas Moore, army officer and fundraiser, born 30 April 1920, died 2 February 2021

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