'I'm a motorcycle fanatic' - Captain Sir Tom Moore
Captain Sir Tom Moore burst into the public consciousness in April, when over the course of three weeks he walked 100 lengths of his garden and raised more than £40m for the NHS.
But a documentary to be shown on ITV today, Thursday, 13 August at 9:15pm, reveals he’s ridden motorcycles since he was a lad, used them to evade the enemy during the war and carried on racing into his twilight years.
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Sir Tom was born on April 30, 1920, in Keighley, West Yorkshire and was raised in a working class household.
"I had a happy childhood," he says. "I wasn’t bought teddy bears but I was bought things that were practical as I grew older. I’d be given a piece of wood, with a hammer and nails."
This family trait can be traced back to his grandfather, the original Tom Moore, who couldn’t read or write but managed to set up a building company. It’s not been lost to this day either – his daughters still joke about being sent under the car as kids to change the oil!
But the most influential character of his childhood was his uncle Billy. He was part of a group of daredevils who pioneered extreme sports, be that flying biplanes upside down or in Billy’s case motorcycle riding.
Billy rode Scott motorcycles, which were made by Alfred Scott in the nearby town of Shipley. In fact such were Billy’s talents, he often made the local paper with a period cutting noting: "One of his tricks was to ride across the local canal on a plank just 6in wide. He was also seen riding through town while reading a newspaper, seemingly with perfect control of the machine."
To test the machines, Alfred used to employ Billy to ride the bikes over rough terrain, eventually taking the idea further and forming the Scott Trial, which is still going to this day.
The trial is a long-distance event that is designed to test man and machine alike. Tom used to love watching his uncle race and as the course setter was also a member of the family, he knew all the best places to catch the action.
"My uncle was very skilled," he says. "He was a wizard." He’s not wrong – Billy was so successful that they created an award in his honour: the Billy Moore cup for best placed Yorkshireman. It still runs to this day.
The young Tom’s relationship grew with Billy, the fun uncle who lived next door and Billy became something of a surrogate father.
"We got on extremely well. As a boy I spent a lot of time with him. He had a cellar full of Scott parts with bits all over the place. If you wanted a part he had it but he might not part with it!"
It wasn’t long before Billy’s love of two wheels rubbed off on Tom and he decided it was time he invested in a machine of his own.
"My first motorcycle was a 1921 Royal Enfield 200 that I found in a barn in Riddlesden and bought for half a crown," Tom remembers. "The tyres were flat, it was covered in dust and it didn’t run because the piston was seized. I was 12. I’d been brought up with bikes and without anyone’s help I got it going."
Even now he remembers the time fondly, with his daughter, Lucy Teixeira adding: "Whenever my father talks about his motorcycle years he lights up. He absolutely loves motorcycles"
As a boy all he read about was about motorcycles and he admits he still gets two motorcycle magazines every month. Tom came to idolise his uncle Billy but sadly in 1935 this colourful character met a tragic end.
"He was working on his car but stayed in the garage too long and the fumes got him. My father had to get him out. I missed him very much."
Off to war
Tom carried on riding and when he made it to Bradford Technical College, his father bought him BAC 600 side valve to ride there and back each day. Then in 1939 war broke out and he was conscripted in the Duke of Wellington regiment.
He was posted to India, where he fought in the brutal Burma campaign. Miraculously the motorbike skills he learnt as a lad served him well, when he was entrusted to deliver messages.
"The Japanese used to fight at night but you can’t drive a tank at night, so they had to wait safely behind our line," says Tom. "Once they stopped, I had to go back and let them know it was safe. The only way of getting from the front to the tanks was on a motorcycle through several miles of jungle, so the task fell to me."
Danger lurked around every corner with Tom regularly riding through a war zone riddled with enemy soldiers. As the conflict progressed, he went on to train other despatch riders, which provided some welcome respite.
"Being an opportunist and running this motorcycle course, I decided for the passing out we would go to Bombay," Tom admits with a smirk. "We’d have a night there, then come home again. It so happened that this girl Sylvia lived in Bombay and she was a pretty girl, so I kept running these courses and ensuring each one finished with a weekend in Bombay. I knew the British boys could look after themselves and I could look after her. Sylvia was happy, the Brigadier was happy and I was happy."
After the war he was back in Yorkshire, looking for work. It was a difficult time and Tom worked in multiple jobs, before he ended up at a construction firm as a building materials salesman. He progressed, advising the likes of Barcelona Airport on a new wonder material called concrete. He entered reliability trials with the VMCC, and even considered the TT.
"If there was an event I could have competed in but didn’t was the TT," says Tom. "I really thought about it but I’m not suitable - I’m a mudplugger not a racer, a foolish thought. I’ve been to spectate though and I have huge respect for what they do."
After his riding days were over, he started a family and continued with a simple life until he became the nation’s new hero earlier this year. And what surprise befits such a bike lover? A personal bike show of course.
On hearing about his walk, and his passion for bikes, the vintage motorcycle community arranged a mini bike show in his garden displaying a Royal Enfield 200, a Scott Standard, and an Excelsior Manxman - the three bikes Tom loved the most from his years of ownership.
As part of the documentary, the producers invited along Dougie Lampkin, who was born in the next village to Tom and has won the Billy Moore Cup more than any other rider, to give his own personal display. Tom was astonished.
"He does things that are impossible. You don’t realise how skilful he is until you try to do it."
As a final flourish, Dougie took Tom for a spin in a wicker sidecar outfit that was even older than him. "I’m absolutely thrilled. You could say I’m a motorcycle fanatic and to see these, each one special in their own way. It’s made my day."