Born: April 30, 1920.

Died: February 2, 2021.

THE WORLD loves an unlikely hero; climate activist Greta Thunberg and the women’s education activist Malala Yousafzai are recent examples. But who would have figured that the face of defiance against the deadly coronavirus would be a 100-year-old former soldier, reliant upon a wheeled walking frame to get around?

Captain Sir Tom Moore, a little moustachioed giant in a gold-buttoned blazer, paced up and down his garden last year with the hope of raising £1,000 – and in doing so he became famous.

He had been keen to donate to the NHS workers who had nursed him back to health after he broke his hip but, after the endeavours of the Second World War veteran went viral, he became an international symbol of inspiration and hope.

As he increased his garden walks and his media appearances, the amount he raised for charity rocketed to almost £40 million. Yet, there was an added spin-off; every step he took offered encouragement for a beleaguered nation. Every step this aged retired army officer made captured millions of hearts and minds.

How could younger people feel self-pity when this gutsy, battling old man was determined to defy age and ache at such an advanced time of life?

Captain Sir Tom, who had been suffering from pneumonia before he contracted Covid 19, has long been a man who set an example to others, determined to seize upon life’s positives.

He grew up in Keighley, Yorkshire, his father a builder and his mother a headteacher.

Life was cosy enough, initially. Young Tom, who owned and raced his first motorbike as a 12-year-old, left Keighley Grammar School and trained as a civil engineer in line with his family’s expectations.

But war got in the way and, not surprisingly, the go-getting racer was selected for office training. He trained motorbike riders with the Royal Armoured Corps, going on to become a tank instructor, achieving the rank of Captain. He served in tanks and was stationed in India. Later, he served in Burma and Sumatra.

His positivity, however, was seriously challenged on being demobbed. Returning to Yorkshire, he met up with childhood sweetheart Ethel, who was now a mother to a little boy. “It’s your fault, Tom Moore, that he isn’t yours,” she said pointedly.

The sense of loneliness played its part in his decision-making. In 1949, he leapt into marriage despite he and “Billie”, as she was nicknamed (her parents had hoped for a son), barely knowing each other. Moore certainly had no idea she had mental health issues.

He revealed in his recent autobiography, Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day, that the marriage was never consummated. “My marriage to Billie represents the darkest period of my life and I think now that it was my fault. I was too impulsive and should have got to know her better. I realise that the first few months of our marriage were as good as it ever got. Things in the bedroom weren’t right between us from the start.”

In time, the couple divorced. But meantime he had met office manager Pamela Paull, who was 15 years his junior. Once he had convinced her family he wasn’t too old, the couple married in 1968 and went on to have two daughters.

Captain Sir Tom faced other challenges. His career had had to be rebuilt in 1959 when the family’s building business went into liquidation. “The next few years saw me working as a quarryman, a builder’s mate and even selling books for Woman’s Own door-to-door”, he recounted.

Undaunted, determined to make a life for his family, he went on to manage his own building supplies company. And, in later years, he revealed a little taste for the spotlight: in 1983, he was a contestant in the BBC’s quiz show, Blankety Blank.

On retirement, he and Pamela emigrated to Spain and life was warm for a while. But when Pamela began suffering from dementia the couple returned to Britain. She died in 2006, aged 71, and her then 86-year-old husband visited her ever day in her care home.

Two years later, Captain Sir Tom moved to Bedfordshire to live with his daughter Hannah and her two children.

But it was as a 99-year-old that his quiet fortitude was revealed to the world as he determined to raise funds for the NHS. And the media and the watching world loved not only his efforts, but the genuine humility and charisma of the kindly, cricket-loving Yorkshireman.

Captain Sir Tom, who used Twitter to promote his walks, explained why he simply had to carry on making laps of his garden. “We’re a little bit like having a war at the moment,” he said last year. “But the doctors and the nurses, they’re all on the front line, and all of us behind – we’ve got to supply them and keep them going with everything that they need.”

As well as appearing in news broadcasts around the world, he received the Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show, achieved a Number One single (recorded with Michael Ball) with the classic heart-lifting song of solidarity, You’ll Never Walk Alone, and took part in more than 150 media interviews.

He became a Guinness World Record-breaking fundraiser, and on Twitter he had no fewer than 361,000 followers. He even appeared on the cover of GQ Magazine.

His knighthood was almost a foregone conclusion. But perhaps Captain Sir Tom Moore’s greatest achievement was in providing a despondent country with a semblance of hope.

Where Dame Vera Lynn steered us through the war, it was Tom Moore who inspired determination and selflessness as we confronted the pandemic. He reckoned he’d had a blessed life and that it was only right to encourage others in the same direction. “At the age of 50, I never expected that I would live another half a century. Oh, the cheek of it,” he said, smiling.

Captain Sir Tom Moore is survived by his two daughters, Lucy and Hannah.