During the First World War, it was Lord Kitchener pointing his finger and telling Great Britain – Your Country Needs You.
From the Second World War, Winston Churchill and his V for Victory sign became synonymous with a sense of bravery and common purpose as he announced: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” How true is that now?
But who could have ever envisioned that in this war, and as I have said before it is our war, the image that will come to symbolise the very best of British would be a 99-year-old man from Yorkshire wearing a smart navy blue blazer, medals pinned proudly to his chest and walking with a zimmer frame? A man whose mantra is “Tomorrow Will be a Good Day”.
And it will be. As soon as I heard the gentle, well-enunciated voice of Captain Tom Moore, I knew he was from our part of the world. I also immediately spotted his regimental tie of red and silver as being from the Duke of Wellington’s, The Dukes have served our country from their Halifax headquarters since 1787 with honour.
But what I and everyone else also recognised was that here was someone who has been through so much, but was still doing his bit, even if it was simply walking the length of the garden he now shares with his daughter, Hannah, in Bedfordshire. And if he can carry on with grace, dignity, humility and optimism, then so can the rest of us.
Captain Tom came into our lives just when we needed him. As more and more people died, the stresses of being isolated from our loved ones began to impact on our collective, and individual, mental health.
I’ve heard from many people, strong people, who always look on the brighter side of life, who were beginning to find the daily news almost too much to bear.
Aggressive questioning, no matter how well-intentioned, and speculation about what may or may not happen in the future was beginning to wear us down.
The daily news became a daily horror show from stories about how funeral directors could, and I mean could, run out of coffins, to predictions of total economic meltdown and speculation that we were on course to become the worst hit country in the world.
I have worked in the media all my life and even I switched off the TV with a growing sense of dread and a knot in my stomach each day. We had lost the freedoms we have come to expect and the ability to think and act for ourselves.
We couldn’t hold our loved ones tight and we couldn’t mourn those lost in the way we felt they deserved.
We could only watch from the sidelines as so many people we have taken for granted for so long, including those within our National Health Service, too long a political football, were called upon to act on our behalf. And yes, I admit it did feel like we were losing control.
And then along came Captain Tom. A man who has seen it all, from war to cancer, to losing his beloved wife, but is still smiling, still serving, still reminding us that every day is a day worth living and that we can all do something to keep going and celebrate those fighting to keep us safe.
And celebrate we should. As the millions poured in with his every determined step, it reminded us of the value of money, which is nothing if we can’t share it.
It reminded us that for the vast majority of us all we are being asked to do is to stay safe and stay at home. We are not being asked to fight from the trenches, or sail a small boat towards the beaches of Dunkirk.
Our doctors and nurses, care workers and bin men, shop assistants and delivery drivers are doing that for us. And Captain Tom keeps on
I turn on the news every day not to hear demands for answers to questions that we cannot know the answers to yet. There will be time enough for that.
No, I turn on to see how Captain Tom is doing as he walks us towards a victory every bit as life changing as the wars we have fought in the past.
Captain Tom is our national symbol of hope, the embodiment of what could be our future if we remember the past and pledge to never forget the sacrifices made on our behalf. There are calls for Captain Tom to be knighted. But I think he will always be Captain Tom to us. There are questions about what to do with the millions he has raised and the millions more he will continue to raise as he reaches his 100th birthday.
The answer for me lies with the medals he so proudly wears each and every day as he takes us step by step to one day nearer the end of the nightmare, medals of service for his country. Then and now.
I would like to think that when this is over, and it will be, each and every person who has served on the frontline in our war will receive a medal perhaps issued on behalf of the Queen.
Perhaps it will become known as a Captain Tom. But that is for the future. For another day.
Until then stay safe. I will leave you with a quote from the man himself. “The sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away. Soon everything will be better. We will soon be smiling.”
God bless you Captain Tom. We will never forget you.
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