Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester CLP
Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester CLP

Dear Sir Tom,

In a week when deaths from COVID19 in the UK broke the 100,000 barrier, it was doubly saddening that you, of all people, should be one of its victims. As a war hero and a strong supporter of the NHS, you came from a generation who experienced the inequalities of the private health care system in pre-war Britain, as you recalled in a TV interview in April last year. In 1939, a GP visit might cost as much as £15 in current prices before the cost of treatment, a cost then way beyond the means of most people.

Your incredible decision at the age of 99 to walk 100 laps of your patio before you reached the age of 100 to raise just £1000 for NHS Charities Together was your personal tribute to the treatment you received from the NHS following treatment for skin cancer of the head and a broken hip after a fall in 2018.

But you struck a chord with a public in the first throes of the pandemic which was little less than spectacular. By the morning of your 100th birthday your fund raising had reached more than £32M. Ever modest about the challenge you set yourself, the generosity of donors was a complete surprise which you described as “completely out of this world”.

At the time you said “It’s all for the sake of the nurses and the NHS we have, because they are doing such a magnificent job. Every penny that we get, they deserve every one of it.” How true and what a typically wonderful and generous appreciation of all those NHS staff who nurture us all at times of ill health and particularly in the middle of this pandemic.

Not only did you encourage thousands to donate to your fundraising appeal but also to raise both awareness and money for others working in and supporting the NHS. From a teenage girl learning to walk again on a treadmill as part of her recovery from a stroke, to a non-verbal boy with autism – who wrote “He is a hero to us,” as he embarked on his own challenge to walk for the NHS, you proved that age is no barrier to caring for others and supporting the NHS and set the example for people to establish their own challenges, enthused by your commitment.

People might argue that such sentiment politicises your death but they should understand that you politicised your life every time you walked up and down your garden raising money for a government health service that should have been properly funded in the first place. You willingly sacrificed your energy, and time, in your final years, to do something noble for the good of the country. From fighting in the second world war to fighting for  the NHS, what a wonderful legacy.

And it is our responsibility to try and make sure nobody else has to give such an enormous gift as you gave ever again. The best way to honour you would be to ensure that the NHS never again needs to be funded by charitable fundraising This is not to deny what you did but to amplify your message. We must commit to a publicly owned, fully funded NHS as the lasting legacy of your heroism and generosity of spirit.

RIP Capt Sir Tom Moore

First published as a Bicester Advertiser column from Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester Constituency Labour Party

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