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OP-ED: Remembering Captain Thomas Moore

  • Published at 08:35 pm February 8th, 2021
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He was a true British hero, raising millions of pounds during Covid-19

Life here in Britain has changed immeasurably since the end of the Second World War. In 1945, while many of its cities lay in ruins and its economy teetered on the brink of collapse, most of the UK’s social structures remained intact. The British class system and its citizens’ natural deference to authority remained as solid as they had been for centuries. 

But all of that was to change. Better education, improved health care, and a recognition across the political spectrum for the need for change, slowly began to erode the class barriers and paved the way for -- albeit still imperfect -- a more equal society. 

The 1960s, of course, was the greatest accelerant in this process. Working class boys like Michael Caine and the Beatles could rise to the top based purely on their talent rather than the privilege of their birth. The age of deference to one’s supposed “betters” was over. This was, for a working-class liberal like me, something to be applauded. 

And yet. And yet …

There is an old saying here that warns of the dangers of “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” In other words, getting rid of something undesirable, also runs the risk of losing something precious. This, regrettably, is what has happened in Britain in the last 75 or so years. 

Our headlong rush towards a meritocracy and equality (all very worthy in their own right) has meant the loss of many of the qualities that made Britain, well … British.

We were, generally, a tolerant, polite nation, always willing to hear the other fellow out, despite not agreeing with anything he said; always prepared to wait patiently in a queue despite the wind and rain.

But all of that seems to have changed. Our exit from the European Union (Brexit) and our response to the pandemic are just two recent examples of this trend. 

Brexit has divided this country (between those who wished to leave and those who wished to remain in the EU) in a way not seen since the Civil War of the seventeenth century. In Parliament, the discourse and debate on this subject grew loud and acrimonious. Even after we finally left the EU at the end of last year, the anger and the rancour have not abated.

In March 2020, the pandemic arrived in the UK. All over the country, normally staid and patient Brits were literally fighting over the last packets of pasta and flour on supermarket shelves. It was as surreal as it was unpleasant. 

It was then that we first heard the name of Captain Thomas Moore. Tom was born in the small Yorkshire town of Keighley in the North of England. Aged 20, in 1940, he enlisted in the British army. He served in Cornwall in Western England and then in India where he trained young recruits to ride motorcycles, a lifelong passion that he had followed since the age of 12. 

When the war with Japan began, he was transferred to fight in the infamous Burma campaign. After the war, he returned to the UK and worked as the managing director of a small company, manufacturing concrete for the building trade.

In 2018 Tom had a fall at the home that he shared with his daughter, Hannah, and her family in the small Bedfordshire village of Marston Moretaine. The accident fractured his ribs and hip and punctured his lung. In April of last year, as he approached his 100th birthday, Tom decided that he wanted to do something to thank the doctors and nurses at the hospital where he had been treated. 

His plan was to walk, with the aid of his walking frame, one hundred laps of the family garden -- 82 steps at a time -- before his birthday at the end of the month. The initial plan had been modest; the most he hoped to raise was £1000 (approximately Tk115,813).  

However, his story was quickly picked up by the BBC and, within a very short space of time, Tom had become a media sensation. Soon, his face was appearing on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, not just in Britain but around the world. 

By the time he had completed his final lap, he had raised a staggering £38.8 million (approximately Tk4.46 billion). The money was donated to provide recreational facilities for the well-being of health care workers treating Covid patients.

The public took Captain Tom to its heart, not just for the amount of money he raised, but for his old-fashioned British values of modesty, politeness, and optimism. He once said: “Tomorrow is going to be better than today.” It was a simple message, but one that resonated with the people of Britain in a time of crisis and misery.

In July, Queen Elizabeth II came out of months of seclusion to grant Tom a knighthood at a specially arranged ceremony at Windsor Castle. Sir Tom as he now was, negotiated a book deal, recorded a chart topping song (the oldest person ever to do so) and was even made an honourary member of the England cricket squad -- a sport that he had followed avidly all of his life. There was even talk of a statue of him being erected in London’s famous Trafalgar Square.

Sadly, Captain Sir Tom Moore himself succumbed to the virus and died earlier this week. But he will not be forgotten. His courage and example caused the British people to see in him the best of what they once were and what they could be again; a gentler nation, that struggled through adversity with humility, decency, and good manners.

Kit Fenwick is a freelance writer and historian.

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