Captain Tom Moore has dominated the news here in the UK over the last week, following his passing on 2nd of February, at the age of 100, after a short battle with pneumonia, and then Covid-19. Tom has became a recognisable, endearing national figure here since last April but – for those not in the know – who was Captain Tom Moore, and why was he so popular?
Born in 1920, Thomas Moore served in the military for the duration of World War II, from 1939 to 1946. He served in India before taking part in the Burma campaign, fighting the Japanese invasion as part of the Fourteenth Army (also referred to as the “Forgotten Army” due to the war in Burma being overlooked by both the contemporary and modern press who were more focused on the war in the Europe, and America’s war in the Pacific).
What Tom became most famous for, however, are his fundraising efforts in 2020. Beginning on the 6th of April – then aged 99 – Tom aimed to complete one hundred lengths of his 25 metre (27 yard) garden – with the assistance of his walking frame – by the time he turned 100, targeting ten lengths a day. Proceeds from his walk were to go to the National Health Service, specifically the NHS Charities Together – a group of charities that support staff, patients, and volunteers across the NHS. Tom wanted to raise the money to help support those on the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis, battling to save lives in Britain’s strained hospitals, and initially aimed to raise £1,000.
On the morning of birthday – the 30th of April 2020 – Tom had crushed his goal and raised over £30,000,000 (likely to be closer to £39,000,000 once tax rebates under the UK’s Gift Aid scheme are applied). When Tom had reached a “mere” £5,000,000, he explained the motivation that pushed him onwards:
“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. 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.”
The British people took Captain Tom to their hearts and his positive attitude was a bright light amidst the bleak Covid-19 crisis that changed (and continues to change) life, bringing with it misery, darkness, and draining restrictions. Tom received numerous recognitions including a Pride of Britain award, Freedom of the City of London, and – of course – his knighthood from the Queen (to name just three). There were also murals of Tom painted across the country. The mural pictured below is actually local to me and I regularly see people posing for photos beside it.
The wake of Captain Tom’s death, however, has been a bit of an odd one (in my opinion). On one hand, I think that there has been a slight overreaction with talk of a statue being built and a state funeral. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Tom deserves all the recognition he is receiving but where does it end? Is it a case of the public desperate to get behind something – anything – with a feel-good vibe during these crappy times? I wouldn’t necessarily oppose a statue of Captain Tom or criticise a state funeral, but I do think that his passing has been hyped up somewhat artificially thanks to social media and mainstream media exposure.
It’s the same exposure that arguably led to such a staggering amount of money being raised by Tom’s walk. Case in point: there were others of an advanced age who were inspired to engage in similar efforts to raise money for NHS charities, such as 100 year-old Dobirul Chowdhray, who – inspired by Tom – began walking laps of his garden. These efforts, as equally worthy as they were, didn’t attract nearly as much in the way of donations because the public were already enthralled by Captain Tom.
None of the above is intended to take away from Captain Tom’s achievements, nor do I want to criticise those who supported him. It’s just a bit of observation on our society, as well as some commentary on the public’s eagerness to back a hero. I don’t doubt that I may have just come across as a cynic intent on putting a dampener on the Captain Tom love-in but that really isn’t the case as I will explain…
For me, it isn’t about the money that Tom raised. He could have fallen short of his initial £1,000 target and I still would have been impressed by what the man did. It’s his attitude that I think we could all do with paying attention to and learning from. Whenever we think that things are too tough, or that a task is too difficult to even try to do, we should think of people like Captain Tom, and what he did. For example, I suffer with back problems and often think that I just cannot deal with the everyday anymore, or that I simply can’t be bothered to even attempt certain tasks during my bad periods. But I try to remember people like Tom who, despite his age and clear physical impairment, pushed himself to complete a physical challenge. What’s more, he did it for the benefit of others – for the benefit of the wider community in general, and that’s even more inspiring.
This is the second thing that we can learn from Tom’s exploits: the act of giving – the act of supporting the people around us when they need it most. Working for the community as a whole rather than ourselves. You’ve probably heard the John F. Kennedy quote of, “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” There was also a second line that went, “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” At home, it was an encouragement for all American citizens to contribute in some way toward the public good. It’s this way of thinking that people like Captain Tom embraced.
Especially during the second World War.
The British men and women who lived, fought, and worked through this devastating conflict are often referred to as the “Greatest Generation”, and I have to fully agree. This was a time when young men were sent abroad to fight for the freedom of our country, knowing full well that there was a high chance they’d never return; never see their families, partners, or children ever again. They went to fight for our safety and the freedom of the unborn future generations, but also for the freedom of the wider world. Sure, many were forcibly conscripted but that overlooks the fact that there thousands who willingly volunteered. Whichever way they joined the military, it was the ultimate sacrifice, and it was made for the sake of others – for community.
At home, women played a vital part in the war effort, signing up to replace the departed men in key manufacturing roles that were necessary for the war effort. People living in the countryside took in children evacuated from cities at risk of being bombed. Men beyond the optimal fighting age, meanwhile, formed the Home Guard. It was a national effort for the sake of Britain, and the people living through this had a much more resilient, can-do attitude. They had to be tough as old boots and – to use a popular phrase – keep calm and carry on.
This is why they are the Greatest Generation. Hands-down. It’s also why I have little time for those today who try to criticise the label and claim that the men and women of that era are overrated or overly romanticised. I look at some of the attitudes people have today and can’t help but wonder what the men of the war, who hunkered down in trenches, surrounded by lifeless bodies of friends and comrades, would think of the people that their sacrifice allowed to live. During this entire Covid situation, for example, we have seen thousands who don’t give two fucks about the concept of community, and simply think about themselves, prioritising their illegal raves or hosting loads of mates rather than pulling together and doing their bit to slow the spread.
Where people at home during the war accepted the food rationing system and learnt to deal with it, we saw people in 2020 literally fighting over toilet rolls, rinsing the shelves of tins (because screw everybody else, right?), and using fake health worker ID to get priority access to shops. Don’t even get me started on the scum who were caught licking products in supermarkets…
And where the country as a whole pulled together to support those fighting, we had – in 2020 – people going into hospitals, finding an empty corridor, filming it, then broadcasting their footage to the world to “prove” that Covid in hospitals was a big lie. Zero respect for those who have died. Zero respect for doctors and nurses at breaking point who are working seven days a week with barely any rest.
Obviously, there ARE some caveats to what I’ve said in the preceeding paragraphs. For starters, there would have been unsavoury attitudes and selfish people amongst those of the Greatest Generation (they – like us and every other generation – weren’t perfect beings). Additionally – bringing it back to the here and now – I also have several reservations about the legitimacy of the Covid pandemic, the reported figures (they are not right at all), and the way it has all been handled.
But even so, to even entertain the idea that our generation is better than the so-called Greatest Generation is just a laugh. With the technology we have and the higher average standard of living, there’s no reason why we couldn’t get close, but there are too many societal issues crippling us. Perhaps we need a major global crisis to put us through the wringer and allow us to emerge from the other side as more resilient, humble people? Well, there is Covid, but I have a feeling that we will come out the other side more divided than ever before. We were united against the virus and the crappy lockdown restrictions to begin with, but it was only a matter of months before people started to just do whatever the hell they felt like. Because they were special people, of course, traumatised by being paid to sit in the garden and drink beer all week long. They needed to get out and unwind….
So no, I can’t imagine the generation of today muddling through six years of war, rationing, and uncertainty.
Well, I’m not really sure where I was going with this post in the end so I’ll sign off now (before I go off on more tangents) by saying rest in peace to Captain Tom. I salute you, Sir.