MARSTON MORETAINE, ENGLAND (REUTERS) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined people across the United Kingdom on Wednesday (Feb 3) in clapping outside their front doors in a tribute to Captain Tom Moore, the centenarian who touched the hearts of millions during last year’s Covid-19 lockdown.
Moore, who raised more than £30 million (S$54 million) for the National Health Service by walking up and down his garden, leaning on a frame, died on Tuesday in Bedford Hospital after suffering pneumonia and Covid-19. He had been fighting cancer for five years.
His quiet determination and simple message of hope and self-sacrifice raised the public’s sprits, and made him a national hero while his efforts caught the imagination of people worldwide.
The British parliament held a minute of silence in his honour, and then at 6pm, people across the country stood on their doorsteps or gathered outside their workplaces to applaud Moore and the health workers for whom he raised funds.
“Tonight let’s clap together for Captain Tom at 6pm and let’s clap for the spirit of optimism that he stood for,” said Johnson, who joined the tribute from outside his Downing Street office with his fiancee Carrie Symonds.
Moore’s family also joined the applause at his home in Marston Moretaine, 80km north of London.
“They will be taking part with huge love in their hearts for their father, grandfather and father-in-law,” the family said in a statement, saying they were incredibly touched by the tribute.
Condolences have poured in from Queen Elizabeth II, Johnson and even the White House while soccer players, school children and his family shed tears for a man who millions consider a lockdown hero.
At his home, children laid flowers. One message read: “Rest in Peace Captain Tom. We love you. X.”
“You will always be our hero,” read another message. “Thank you for your warmth and your wonderful smile. Rest in Peace.”
His picture was shown on Piccadilly Circus in central London while the London Eye, Wembley Stadium and the Blackpool Tower shone lights of honour.
Wit and inspiration
Amid the death and gloom of the Covid-19 pandemic, war veteran Moore’s wit and inspiration struck a chord.
“For all those people who are finding it difficult at the moment: the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away,” said Moore, dressed in a blazer and tie and displaying his war medals, after completing his walk in April.
Raised in Yorkshire, northern England, Moore served in India, Burma and Sumatra during World War Two. Always polite and dapper in public, Moore had a mischievous humour.
When asked about speculation he would be knighted by the queen, he quipped that he would find it funny to be known as “Sir Thomas Moore” - a reference to the beheaded Tudor statesman.
He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth at a ceremony at Windsor Castle, one of her first engagements after the lockdown and one of the most striking images of last summer. He also went on to record a number one pop single.
While Moore exuded modesty, his fame was global: CNN ran a banner headline about his death during the news, Russia news broadcasts reported that “Tom Moore died like a real soldier” and his death was reported across Asia.
The United Kingdom has the world’s fifth worst official Covid-19 death toll – currently at 108,013 – but Moore brought hope to many.
“The last year of our father’s life was nothing short of remarkable. He was rejuvenated and experienced things he’d only ever dreamed of,” his daughters said.
There have been calls for Moore to be remembered with a statue or public memorial.
“I’m absolutely, of course, open to that,” Johnson said. “I know... that’s the kind of thing that people would want to support and we’ll be working with his family to see what they feel is most appropriate.”