London (AFP) – Britain will celebrate on Thursday the 100th birthday of the World War II veteran whose staggering fundraising efforts inspired the country during the depths of its coronavirus outbreak.
Having served his country in the last century, “Captain Tom” Moore recently thrust himself into the thick of Britain’s latest battle by doing 100 laps of his garden and raising over £29 million (33 million euros, $36,000) for healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients.
His efforts and humility have propelled him to iconic status, with a high-speed train named after him and all letters sent in the British postal service this week carrying a birthday message.
Planes from the Royal Air Force, usually deployed for World War II commemorative events, will fly in his honour on Thursday, when he celebrates his century.
The pensioner from Yorkshire, northern England, has also received more than 125,000 birthday cards from around the world, enough to fill the vast hall of his grandson Benjie’s school.
Prince William and England football captain Harry Kane were among those sending cards, as well as thousands of children who sent him their drawings.
Foreign minister Dominic Raab, who deputised for Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his battle with the virus, wished Moore a “very happy” birthday in parliament on Wednesday.
Thursday’s flypast “was supposed to be a surprise,” Transport Minister Grant Shapps said on Twitter on Tuesday, but in the face of immense media interest, the government had to confirm the rumours.
But the time of the event is still a secret to avoid crowds gathering, with lockdown restrictions still in force.
The captain’s latest mission began on April 6, with the target of raising £1,000 for groups linked to the National Health Service as a thank you for the treatment he received while suffering with cancer and a broken hip.
He planned to raise the money by completing 100 laps of his 25-metre (yard) garden, asking for sponsorship online.
But the generosity of the public far exceeded his hopes, and he received millions within days.
Dressed in a tie and jacket decorated with medals, Moore completed the final leg of his journey just 10 days later, crossing the line with the aid of his walking frame and a military guard of honour.
“I’m feeling fine, I hope you are all feeling fine too,” the former engineer, who served in India and Myanmar, said after completing his mission.
Since then he has become a living legend, praised by the government as a “source of inspiration” for the country at a time of deep crisis.
He now owns two world records: raising the most money ever doing an individual charity walk and the oldest person ever to get a number one single in the UK charts.
His unlikely ascent to the top of the pop charts came with a charity version of musical classic and popular football chant “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, in which he sings along with British stage star Michael Ball and the NHS choir.
“We are hugely proud of how the nation has taken granddad to its heart,” said grandson Benjie.
“Words can’t express how much I idolise him.”