All rise for Captain Sir Tom Moore. The war veteran, who has captured the hearts and the minds of the British nation, will be knighted for his extraordinary achievement in raising over £32 million for National Health Service charities. “I am certainly delighted and overawed by the fact that this has happened to me,” said Moore upon learning he would receive the honour, which is a special nomination from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Moore is not alone in his delight. Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton is “in awe” of the veteran’s achievements. Sir Ian Botham, former cricketer for England told Moore: “In hard, hard times the country needs something like this to inspire them,” and Boris Johnson has described Moore as, “a beacon of light through the fog of coronavirus.”
There we were, disarmed and apparently helpless, and there was “Captain Tom” doing something about it.
No doubt the recipients of his remarkable fundraising achievements will be delighted, as well. NHS Charities Together, the umbrella organisation for which Captain Moore raised £32,794,701, works to support NHS staff, patients and volunteers.
To the British public, Moore is a symbol of hope: where there is despair in death, Moore displays the optimism of life. In walking round and around his garden raising eye-watering sums of money, he demonstrated the importance of Not Giving Up, and how determination and resilience can lead to success. Furthermore, his good fortune is of his own volition – this in itself is particularly inspiring at a time when our fate is surrendered to the hands of the gods (and the progress of inoculation research departments).
As the “fog” of Coronavirus descended and Captain Moore began walking the laps of his garden – he originally aimed to raise a humble £1,000 – the people of Great Britain were sitting idle and desperate on their sofas, eager to help in any way possible. But they weren’t allowed: lockdown and social distancing measures were enforced. People were panic-stricken. Captain Moore served as our knight in shining armour riding over the horizon as VE Day approached. There we were, disarmed, and there was “Captain Tom” doing something about it.
He was the David to the Goliath of the Coronavirus pandemic.
What Captain Tom Moore proves is that the great British nation is not in fact imprisoned by the iron rule of the Stiff Upper Lip. This aspect of our national character – for centuries shaped by our resolutely unflappable nature, our cool heads in the face of hysteria and our resolution when confronted by adversity – is at peril. In today’s climate of identity politics – am I a boy? Am I a girl? Am I a fish? – we are (or we were) united in our adherence to the rulebook of the Stiff Upper Lip.
“Do you know what le vice Anglais – the English vice – really is?” he writes. “It’s our refusal to admit our emotions. We think they demean us, I suppose.” – Terence Rattigan
Whilst the origins are not known for certain, the Stiff Upper Lip has been attributed first to the Stoics. “If you are distressed by any external thing,” Marcus Aurelius wrote, “it is not this thing which disturbs you, but your own judgment about it.” In other words, Keep Calm and Carry On. This runs through our history as blood through our veins. Consider Rudyard Kipling’s “If-”: “If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” Some of our most famous characters in fiction have been made or destroyed by their inability to wrench themselves from the shackles of the Stiff Upper Lip: Lizzie Bennet, Mr Rochester or Richard Hannay, to name a few.
Playwright Sir Terence Rattigan alludes to our sensibilities (or lack thereof) in In Praise of Love: “Do you know what le vice Anglais – the English vice – really is?” he writes. “It’s our refusal to admit our emotions. We think they demean us, I suppose.”
Then, after centuries of suppressing our emotions, along comes “Captain Tom” and his zimmer frame and we all melt. The stoicism and fortitude upon which we pride ourselves have crumbled at the possibility of a happy ending.
We are not emotionally self-restrained but, in fact, deeply sentimental and given to surges of feeling. That – and really rather generous.
Constance Watson is Assistant Editor of the Catholic Herald. She also contributes to The Spectator, The Telegraph, Standpoint and The Oldie.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund