London, UK
Reuters

Tom Moore, a 99-year-old British war veteran, completed the last of 100 laps of his garden on Thursday, raising £13 million for the health service in an endeavour that has spread joy across the country amid the coronavirus gloom.

"For all those people who are finding it difficult at the moment: the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away," said Moore, dressed in a blazer and tie and displaying his war medals, after completing his walk.

Captain Tom Moore

Retired British Army Captain Tom Moore, 99, walks to raise money for health workers, by attempting to walk the length of his garden one hundred times before his 100th birthday this month as the spread of coronavirus disease continues, in Marston Moretaine, Britain, on 15th April. PICTURE: Reuters/Peter Cziborra

The retired army captain, who has used a walking frame with wheels since breaking his hip, set himself the target of walking the 25 metres around his garden 100 times before his 100th birthday on 30th April.

He completed his challenge to praise from around the country and beyond - and a salute from soldiers in the regiment which replaced his own. 

Raised in Yorkshire, northern England, Moore served in India, Burma and Sumatra during World War II.

He said the walk was inspired by the care he received from Britain's state-run health service when he broke his hip and when he was treated for cancer.

His original target was £1,000. 

But that modest aim was blown away as media attention from around the globe zoomed in on his garden in Bedfordshire, central England.

The story has lifted the hearts of a nation in lockdown, weary of relentless waves of grim news. 

It has also embodied an outpouring of gratitude for Britain's doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers on the front line in the fight against the pandemic.

So far, nearly 13,000 people with COVID-19 have died in British hospitals, the fifth-highest total globally. Twenty-seven were health workers, Health Minister Matt Hancock said.

Moore's achievement was a "shaft of light" in the darkness of the COVID-19 crisis, he said. "Captain Tom, what an inspiration to us all."

Moore said the £13 million was an "absolutely fantastic sum of money". 

"It's unbelievable that people would be so kind to give that sort of money to the National Health Service," he said.

Moore received a guard of honour from soldiers from the First Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, the successor to his Duke of Wellington's regiment, as he completed his final lap.

Afterwards he received messages of congratulation from figures from sport, politics and entertainment. 

Ben Stokes, England's leading cricketer, said he hoped he would be moving as well as Moore when he was 50 let alone 100, while finance minister Rishi Sunak praised his "Yorkshire grit".

Moore, however, remained focused on the sacrifices made by health service workers and the efforts of his fellow Britons, who have been locked down since 23rd March. 

"You've all got to remember that we will get through it in the end, it will all be right, it might take time," Moore said. "At the end of the day we shall all be OK again."

Moore's family said they had fielded interest from as far afield as the United States, France and Australia.

Son-in-law Colin Ingram said raising money for the health service had given Moore a new lease of life.

"He's coming down in the morning sprightly and loving it," Ingram told Reuters on Wednesday.