FROM a young age, Captain Tom learned first hand about the effects of loneliness.
As a boy he saw the isolation his father felt due to being deaf.
Captain Tom Moore (front, middle) was a war hero and national treasureCredit: justgiving.com/fundraising/tomswalkforthenhs
He joined the British Army in 1939Credit: Reuters
Sir Tom died yesterday after being taken to hospital with pneumonia and coronavirusCredit: Getty
And that experience led him to campaign against loneliness — one of the key aims of his foundation which also aims to champion equality and support the NHS.
A charity hero with a lifelong record of caring for others, Tom Moore was born at home in Keighley, West Yorks, on April 30, 1920.
He was the second child of Isabella and Wilfred, who ran a successful family building firm despite his disability. Tom and sister Freda had a happy childhood.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the young engineer joined the Local Defence Volunteers, which later became the Home Guard, before being conscripted into his local regiment, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) as a Private.
But he set his sights on becoming an officer after discovering they were issued with nice uniforms, smart brown boots and better food.
Quickly selected for the training, he was sent to India as a tank commander in the fight against the Japanese in Burma.
Tom’s best friend, Lieutenant Philip Thornton, was among nine men from his regiment killed in February 1943 when the Japanese massacred three tank crews at Donbaik, on the jungle-covered Burmese coast.
Two years later the British Army found the tanks stripped bare and the bleached bones of the nine crewmen laid out in dirt nearby.
Recalling the attack that killed his friend, Captain Tom said: “Three tanks, including one commanded by Philip, were sent to attack a Japanese stronghold.
Captain Tom (circled) was a private when the Second World War startedCredit: The Captain Tom Foundation
Later, thanks to his racing skills, he was put to use as a dispatch riderCredit: Reuters
Sir Tom married wife Pamela in 1968, when he was nearly 50Credit: The Captain Tom Foundation
Donbaik was dominated by a bunker called Sugar 5, which the British had already failed to take twice with considerable loss of life.
“This time the intelligence received was deeply misleading. The tanks were sent into a heavily defended area and it became a massacre.
“Three tanks went in with nine crew. None came back.
“As well as Philip, the dead included three men — Sgt Dennis, troopers Bird and Lister — who I had joined the regiment with.
‘GRIM NEWS HIT ME HARD’
“It was the most dreadful shock to our unit. The grim news hit me hard.
“I wrote to Philip’s parents to express my condolences, beginning a correspondence that lasted for several years. I like to think they took some comfort that one of his friends vouched for his courage, good humour and popularity among his men.
“Their remains were eventually removed and laid to rest, first in a cemetery at Razabil and later in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Taukkyan in Burma.
“For 60 years I organised annual reunions for the men from the Duke of York’s regiment.
“Each year I buy a cross which the Royal British Legion places on my behalf in the Field of Remembrance. I write the same message, ‘It could have been me’.
The couple had two daughters, Lucy and HannahCredit: The Captain Tom Foundation
On a whim in 1983, he appeared as a contestant on TV quiz Blankety BlankCredit: BBC
Captain Tom did not win but he was fascinated by the show
“I don’t consider myself a hero. At the end of the war I had survived virtually unharmed and realised I’d been one of the very lucky ones.
“I hope we don’t have any more wars, because they are fruitless things.”
He was promoted to Captain in July 1944 in Poona, India.
Before the war, Tom had competed in motorbike trials, and in 1945 his racing skills were put to use as a dispatch rider, scouting jungle trails to see if the enemy had doubled back or were lying in wait.
He remembered: “Incredibly, in all my missions back and forth I managed to stay clear of the Japanese. I never came face to face with an enemy soldier or little Tommy Moore, aged just 24, would have been a gonner.”
I hope we don’t have any more wars, because they are fruitless things.
After the war he returned home, taking over running the family building firm.
He renewed his friendship with his pal Brian Booth, whose girlfriend Pat introduced Tom to an attractive young woman called Billie.
In his life story Captain Tom recalled: “That wasn’t the name she was christened but her father had always wanted a boy so that’s what he called her.
“Her father was high up in the wool trade and her mother came from a wealthy background.
“I was almost 30 when I proposed to Billie, despite hardly knowing her at all. We were married not long after.
Last year he raised an incredible £33million for the NHSCredit: Reuters
The modest veteran initially set out to raise £1,000 for hospital staff working on the front line against coronavirusCredit: EPA
“The year was 1949 and my father wept. It didn’t augur well. Our honeymoon was spent at the Grand Hotel in Scarborough.”
Their 18-year marriage was loveless and never consummated. It ended when Billie ran off with a sex therapist.
In his autobiography, which became a No1 bestseller, Captain Tom said: “If she hadn’t done what she did I would probably have stayed with her for ever, because loyalty is important to me.
“But she gave me a way out and I took it. I have always found that the turning tide brings something better and it did for me, with an advert I spotted.”
The ad was for a job as the northern regional manager for a company selling roofing materials.
On trips to the firm’s head office in Gravesend, Kent, he met and fell in love with the office manager, 33-year-old Pamela Paull.
They married in 1968, when Tom was nearly 50, and had two daughters, Lucy and Hannah.
On a whim in 1983, he appeared as a contestant on the Christmas episode of TV quiz Blankety Blank, hosted by Terry Wogan.
Captain Tom did not win but he was intrigued to discover the revolving stage was powered by two stagehands. In 2006 his wife Pamela died, age 71.
Captain Tom was knighted by the Queen and promoted to Colonel by his old regimentCredit: Rex Features
He received 225,000 birthday cards when he turned 100Credit: Getty
He even appeared on Piers Morgan’s Life StoriesCredit: Rex Features
Hannah says: “She had been ill for ten years with a degenerative brain disorder.
“My father used to visit her every day. He saw lonely ladies who were sick and sat there month after month and no one came to see them. And the people who were visiting were lonely because they had no one to go home to.”
‘MAKE A DIFFERENCE’
Recalling his wife’s deterioration, Captain Tom said: “To watch someone you love decline through dementia is a kind of slow torture.
“You lose them before you lose them, and that is what happened with my darling Pamela.
“It was such a lonely time for us both when she went into care.
“I was home on my own with only Harry the dog for company every night and for much of the day.
“She was sitting in a chair or in bed waiting for me to feed her. It was soul-destroying.
“One day, as I arrived with a bunch of her favourite freesias, she looked up at me, smiled and said, ‘If you didn’t come every day, Tom, I would be so lonely’.
“That really hit me hard, as I knew what it felt like to be on your own, but I could only imagine how much worse it must be in a care home.
In 2020 he released his autobiography, which became a No1 bestsellerCredit: Getty Images
“I was painfully aware that there were many other old people there who had nobody to visit them at all — not a soul, year after year.”
After her mother died, Hannah invited Captain Tom to live with her, her husband Colin and grandson Benjie, who was a toddler.
Tom’s granddaughter Georgia was born two years later.
It is never too late to start something new and make a difference.
In the garden that so many people came to know from Captain Tom’s TV appearances, Hannah says: “He would never tell us this but he did say on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories on TV that the best thing he ever did was moving here.
“He became involved in the daily lives of a family that is busy with young children, which is energising. But when he fell and broke his hip he definitely suffered.
“He was frustrated because he used to drive the car and mow the grass, and he couldn’t do anything any more.”
On December 11 last year, Captain Tom and his family flew to Barbados, returning on January 6.
Six days later he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia but was discharged on January 22 and later that day tested positive for Covid.
He was taken to Bedford Hospital on Sunday and died yesterday.
Tom’s daughter Hannah and grandchildren Benjie and Georgia were by his side in hospitalCredit: EPA
His record as a charity hero will live on as an example to othersCredit: Getty
Tom’s family said in a statement: “His daughter Hannah and grandchildren Benjie and Georgia were able to be by his side and his daughter Lucy was able to speak to him on FaceTime.”
His record as a charity hero will live on as an example to others. As he once said: “It is never too late to start something new and make a difference.
“It doesn’t take much. Even to give someone a little smile can brighten a day and the smile you get back will brighten yours.”
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