LONDON — It started off as a bit of encouragement, a nudge to her World War II veteran father to keep active in lockdown after breaking his hip 18 months ago.
Less than two weeks later, 99-year-old Capt. Tom Moore and his daughter have helped raise more than 18 million pounds, or $22 million, to support the staff and volunteers of the U.K.’s beloved National Health Service.
“I told him, I’ll give you a pound for every length that you do and if you do 100 by your 100th birthday that’ll be 100 pounds,” said Tom Moore’s daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore, who lives with her father in Marston Moretaine, around 50 miles north of London.
Each day, Moore, armed with his walker, aimed to do enough lengths of the path in his 50-yard-long yard to finish the challenge in time for his birthday at the end of the month. They started a JustGiving page, and aimed to raise 1,000 pounds, or $1,244, by the end of the month.
Local media then picked up the story and the donations started rolling in. They smashed the initial target and the Moores then set a goal of 5,000 pounds. They soon upped it to 50,000 pounds, and then 250,000 pounds. In the end, it took just 11 days to raise 18 million pounds, with the number continuing to rise by hundreds of thousands on Friday morning.
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“This is unbelievable, it really is. You can’t believe when you see these sums of money come along,” said Moore in a video interview, sitting in an arm chair and dressed in a shirt and tie.
During the war, he served with the British army India and Burma, now known as Myanmar, and went on to become an instructor at The Armoured Fighting Vehicle School.
Today I completed my final 10 laps, and although the mission is complete – I am going to keep on going.
The donations stand at 15.5 MILLION pounds – wow.
Thank you all – now let’s continue to support our NHS!
In total, more than 900,000 people have donated, bringing record traffic to the JustGiving website. The numbers were so large that JustGiving had to ask donors to bear with them as they processed donations from thousands of Moore’s supporters.
While the image of the WWII vet in a suit jacket emblazoned with medals has in itself inspired many, so has the effort to help the country’s socialized health service. The NHS is under unprecedented strain from coronavirus and workers facing similar equipment shortages as in the U.S., and Moore’s challenge struck a chord.
Since the lockdown began, Britons have stood outside their homes every Thursday evening, clapping for health care workers. Meanwhile, landlords have offered free places to stay for those who want to steer clear of their families while treating COVID-19 patients.
The government’s mantra throughout the crisis has been, “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives,” repeated often by ministers in interviews, plastered on billboards and featured in newspaper ads.
Moore’s effort on behalf of health workers has also inspired nearly half a million people to sign a petition for him to receive a knighthood, with the midwife who started it calling him an “amazing motivational hero.”
“We created this little gem and he became a picture of hope in the United Kingdom in all this adversity,” said Ingram-Moore of her father.
Buoyed by the tremendous support, he completed his task on Thursday — dressed in a suit and tie, with service medals on his lapel — well ahead of schedule. Standing on either side of him as he finished his last lengths was a guard of honor in uniform, with health care workers cheering him on at the end of the path.
“It isn’t for me, it’s for all the people, the doctors and the nurses, whichever country you are in, it’s for them because they are doing so well,” he said of the funds he raised. “They are the front line and we’re all behind giving them back up, providing the goods they need, and a little pat on the back to tell them how well they are doing.”
Molly Hunter is a London-based correspondent with NBC News.
Rachel Elbaum is a London-based editor, producer and writer.