Review

Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day by Captain Tom Moore, review: the wonderful and instructive life story of our NHS hero

4/5

The beloved veteran's memoir shows a man entirely unwilling to be beaten down by circumstance - surely required reading for all politicians

Captain Tom Moore at Windsor Castle after being knighted by the Queen
Captain Tom Moore at Windsor Castle after being knighted by the Queen Credit: Chris Jackson/Pool/AFP/Getty 

A rare gleam of light during the Covid-19 lockdown was the sight of a 99-year-old Second World War veteran, still recovering from a serious fall, walking laps of his garden to raise money for the NHS. At a time when the public needed someone to cheer, Captain Tom Moore’s selfless efforts garnered huge media attention and helped to raise the astonishing sum of £38 million in just 26 days, a Guinness World Record.

Britain quickly fell in love with this bluff Yorkshireman – who seemed to embody all that was good about our island nation – and the accolades poured in: honorary colonel of Army Foundation College in Harrogate; Freedom of the Cities of Keighley and London; 100th-birthday greetings from, among others, Her Majesty the Queen, Boris Johnson and the head of the World Health Organisation; and, the icing on the cake, a knighthood. Now comes his memoir.

So who is Tom Moore? Born and brought up in Keighley, West Yorkshire, he was the grandson of a stonemason who, though uneducated, had started a successful building company. Moore recalls an “extremely happy childhood” with loving parents, but it was not all sweetness and light. A younger sister died in infancy, a favourite uncle committed suicide, and Moore’s father Wilfrid was “an innately artistic person” who felt compelled to join the family firm after he contracted a virus at the age of 21 that left him deaf in both ears.

Fascinated by all things mechanical, Moore bought and repaired a 1921 Royal Enfield motorcycle when he was 15 and dreamed of competing in the Isle of Man TT races. Academically he “wasn’t the brightest boy”, and studied textiles and engineering when his cleverer peers were learning Latin and Greek. But it paid off when he left school at 15 to train as a water engineer. “It was,” he writes, “the perfect job for me and in the days before mass tourism I had places to myself like the great rock outcrop of Robin Hood’s Stone.”

When war broke out in 1939, Moore was entering the last year of a three-year civil engineers’ course at Bradford Technical College. He volunteered for the Local Defence Volunteers (better known as “Dad’s Army”) and, after his proper call-up in September 1940, joined the 8th Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding). He “wasn’t afraid of fighting for freedom and democracy” and felt it was his duty to defend Britain from Germany’s aggression. But, observing the difference between ordinary soldiers and officers, he made a pragmatic decision to get a commission. Officers had a “better life with a better uniform”, and more responsibility, and he was determined to become one.

Second Lieutenant Moore with sister Freda on his 21st birthday

Moore achieved his aim within six months and, in the summer of 1941, was sent with an armoured unit to India where he loved the food, the people and a gin cocktail called John Collins. Appointed the intelligence officer, he was lucky to miss his unit’s first battle in Burma early 1943 that resulted in the loss of three tanks and the death of a close friend. But he did see action a year later in the Battle of the Admin Box, a defensive victory in Burma that changed the course of campaign. Promoted to captain and sent back to England to learn about the new Churchill tank in early 1945, his one regret was that he never served under General Bill Slim, the finest British commander of the war.

Much taken by the camaraderie, variety and discipline of military life, Moore briefly considered a career in the peacetime army. But his father wanted him to join the family firm, and he acquiesced like the dutiful and honourable man he still is. When the firm went bust, Moore took work as a manual labourer before reinventing himself as first a travelling salesman and then a company director.

Captain Tom Moore on his beloved 1912 Scott Flying Squirrel

His love life was no less of a roller coaster. Billie, his first wife, refused to consummate their 18-year marriage and eventually left him for a sex counsellor. His second marriage to Pamela was more successful, though she suffered from bouts of paranoia and mental illness, and left to him the bulk of the nighttime childcare of their two daughters. “This suited me fine,” he writes, “and led to a very special relationship with them from the start.” He still lives with his youngest daughter Hannah and her family.

Captain Tom Moore visits an old friend at Bovington Tank Museum

Though well-attuned to modern sensibilities, Moore is brave enough to speak his mind on a number of controversial issues. He believes (rightly) that dropping the atomic bombs was necessary because, having fought the Japanese, he is in no doubt “that if the war hadn’t ended then there would have been even greater numbers killed”; he acknowledges that the Raj has “much to answer for”, but “also did a great deal for India”; and he admires Churchill and was honoured to serve a country of which he is “so very proud”.

What sets Moore apart from later generations is his unwillingness to be beaten down by circumstance. If he has a setback – and he has had many – he deals with it and moves on, trusting to hard work, common sense and the belief that tomorrow will be better (hence the book’s title). It often is. His wonderful and instructive life story – beautifully ghostwritten by the author Wendy Holden – should be required reading for politicians everywhere.

Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day by Captain Tom Moore is published by Michael Joseph at £20​. Call 0844 871 1514 or visit Telegraph Books