Tom Moore, a British World War II veteran who has raised millions for the country’s National Health Service, was promoted to the rank of honorary colonel on Thursday, his 100th birthday.
The head of the British Army, Gen. Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, made the appointment with the approval of Queen Elizabeth II, hoping that Moore’s “heroic achievement” will inspire the next generation of soldiers.
“His mature wisdom, no-nonsense attitude and humour in adversity make him an inspirational role model to generations young and old,” the general said in a statement.
Moore previously held the rank of captain after serving with the Army in Burma and India during World War II, according to The Yorkshire Post.
The current commanding officer of the Yorkshire Regiment presented Moore with a letter announcing his promotion at the veteran’s home in the village of Marston Moretaine. Moore is self-isolating there with his family.
Moore told the BBC he never anticipated his promotion. “I’m still Captain Tom, that’s who I really am, but if people choose to call me Colonel, well, thank you very much,” he told the BBC.
The veteran raised the funds by taking laps around his back garden with the help of a walker, and he had been widely lauded and honored in the U.K. for his efforts to help British health care workers fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Moore’s desire to help was driven by his own experience with the National Health Care system. When he was 98 years old, Moore suffered a near-fatal fall while emptying his dishwasher at home. His injuries were so severe that his daughters were convinced he was about to die. But with the help of NHS workers, Moore recovered and regained enough strength to return to his active lifestyle.
Looking for a way to thank the NHS and support its workers during the pandemic, Moore started his fundraiser with a modest goal ― £1000, or about $1,260. But the campaign quickly exploded in popularity. By Thursday, he had raised £31,763,869, over $40 million.
The funds go to NHS Charities Together, which seeks to support the health and emotional well-being of the country’s health care workers. The organization helps distribute wellness packs for hospital workers, sets up hospital break rooms with food and drink, and purchases electronic tablets so patients and staff can keep in touch with loved ones.
Moore has received an estimated 140,000 cards for his 100th birthday ― so many that the cards are being temporarily stored at his grandson’s school.
Among the well-wishes was a personalized card from the Queen, who sent her “congratulations and best wishes.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ― who was hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus ― recorded a video greeting for Moore, calling him “a point of light in all our lives.”
“Your heroic efforts have lifted the spirits of the entire nation, you’ve created a channel to enable millions to say a heartfelt thank you to the remarkable men and women in our NHS who have all been doing the most outstanding job,” Johnson said.
The British Royal Air Force had two wartime planes fly over Moore’s home on Thursday in tribute to him. Wrapped in a blanket and wearing his army medallions, the honorary colonel lifted his arm in recognition as the planes zoomed by.
Moore is the oldest artist to top the U.K.’s music charts, with the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a collaboration with the singer Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care choir. The country’s Royal Mail has issued a special postmark in his honor.
Moore told the BBC that it was “extraordinary” to be turning 100 with so many people cheering him on.
“Reaching 100 is quite something. Reaching 100 with such interest in me and huge generosity from the public is very overwhelming,” he said. “People keep saying what I have done is remarkable, however, it’s actually what you have done for me which is remarkable.”