Captain ‘Sir’ Tom Moore: Horace ‘Jim’ Greasley
This week we said goodbye to a legend of a character, an icon from the generation we owe so much to. Originally conscripted into the 8th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment, Captain Tom Moore was later transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps and served in India and Burma during WW2. Captain Tom and British men and women like him were the very reason an egotistic, narcissistic Austrian was kept in check and his master plan of world domination gradually dismantled around him. He was given a bloody nose and ultimately driven back into his Berlin bunker, never to resurface.
As a historian who spends nearly every day of life researching something or other, I am forever rediscovering ‘stories’ from the war years and nothing really surprises me. I am convinced the POW stories that so fascinate me are still out there and I discovered another two in 2020, soon to be published.
I don’t think I’m being unkind by saying Captain Tom’s WW2 exploits may not have made it onto the best seller shelves, but boy did he come into our lives with a bang a couple of months before his 100th birthday, as he attempted to walk 100 laps around his garden with his Zimmer frame. Tom was propelled into the limelight as he attempted to raise £100,000 for a Covid stricken NHS.
He came into our living rooms via the TV and YouTube videos of his interviews went viral. At last, we had a chink of sunshine in our dull and miserable lockdown lives and thanks to this cheeky centenarian with a hint of mischief about him and an eye for the girls.
He was never without a smile on his face and thrived on the limelight as he was thrust into the realms of celebrity stardom. We couldn’t get enough of him and the money kept pouring in, even our Prime Minister and Her Majesty wanted a slice of Captain Tom’s pie. The simple truth was that he was fun to be around and incredibly, he eventually raised over £33 million.
As we know, he was subsequently knighted, the members of the great British public almost demanding that he was honoured by the Queen. He had a number one single and appeared in the Guinness Book of Records for the most charitable funds raised by a single individual. British GQ magazine named him as its ‘Inspiration of the Year,’ he received several honorary doctorates and recorded a 30-minute documentary on his war years.
On the morning of his 100th birthday, who can forget it? A Hawker Hurricane and a Spitfire performed a flypast over his house. The moment, captured for posterity by news channels from around the world. His face is engrained on my memory that day and still gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.
Instead of the standard 100th birthday message from Queen Elizabeth II, he received a personalised card, presented in person by the Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire.
That last year of Captain Tom’s life reminded me so much of the last year or two of Horace ‘Jim’ Greasley’s life. At 89 years of age, Horace felt it was time to tell his tale and I was commissioned to write his story of his exploits during WW2 and in particular his time as a POW in Lamsdorf and some of the surrounding work camps. The book was a best seller twice over, reaching The Sunday Times top ten bestsellers list and the movie rights were sold to Hollywood. Because of the book’s success, Horace too, was propelled into a world that he hadn’t ever known. Suddenly newspapers wanted to interview him, TV companies and radio shows came knocking at the door and everyone wanted to meet him. A film crew from London flew out to meet him at his retirement home in the south of Spain. They spent three days interviewing him telling his story. I still have those DVDs, they are priceless.
Horace’s first publisher arranged launch parties and book signings, he even had a fan club, a few of his fans flew in from England to meet him and get his signature on their books. I stood on the side-lines and took it all in. Horace, like Captain Tom had an eye for the ladies, as Tom once said, he “certainly wasn’t allergic to them.”
We all dared to dream that perhaps old Horace could have gone on forever but of course we knew he never would. Neither could Captain Tom. In writing Horace’s book, I knew that I had left his legacy, but more than that, it was as if we had somehow reignited him and I watched him blossom for the next few years.
He died quite suddenly, in his sleep one night in the comfort of his own home. It’s what he would have wanted, he didn’t suffer and I comfort myself remembering those last few years and the celebrity I helped to create.
There aren’t many Captain Toms or Horace Greasley’s left now but they must never be forgotten. Tell their stories, if they are still around, make a fuss of them and tell them how special we think they are.
The World War II generation is dwindling by the day but our debt to them and their legacies will never die.
To live on in the minds of others is truly not to die.