Captain Tom villagers rue the ‘tarnished legacy’ of national hero as family’s spa to be razed

With its attractive medieval church and picture-postcard manor house, Marston Moretaine could be one of any number of charming villages spread out across the Bedfordshire countryside.

But a visit this week showed that, a stone’s throw from families picking up their children at the local primary school and drinkers enjoying the hospitality of a packed nearby pub, resentment is building among the locals.

The biggest story the village has ever seen began heroically when frustrated pensioner Captain Tom Moore found himself confined to his home at the village’s Old Rectory during the Covid pandemic and decided to mark his 100th birthday by raising money for the beleaguered NHS.

The Second World War veteran, who had served in the India and Burma campaigns, started a mission to walk 100 lengths of his garden in a bid to raise £1,000, walking 10 lengths a day.

It’d be hard to find someone who does not know what happened next.

Neighbours were proud of his achievement, which raised millions for the NHS and brought extraordinary worldwide fame.

But those close to the war veteran’s former home are now worried that Captain Tom’s legacy is in peril as a spa building, constructed in his name with the stated aim of serving the community, is due to be torn down.

Among those who might have expected a session at the spa was Roger Haddon, who lives in a small retirement complex called Manor Court within sight of the illegal building.

The 78-year-old said: “There was a television programme on it and they were talking about putting a jacuzzi or something in there. They said we will probably let the older people in the village come and use it.

“You must be bloody joking. It’s a load of bulls***.”

He added: “The worst bit is that it’s made a mockery of Captain Tom’s name.”

Back in 2020, within days of Captain Tom’s original appeal, donations came pouring in – not by the thousands but millions – as the fundraiser from his quiet back garden quickly became an international cause celebre everyone was talking about.

Twenty extra volunteers had to be drafted in by Royal Mail to sort birthday cards for his home, and after achieving the challenge, the RAF sent a Hawker Hurricane and Spitfire for a surreal flypast over his home.

Nick Knowles of DIY SOS even lent a hand to help with a garden fence to keep the family out of the gaze of the paparazzi camped outside who were seeking a new daily angle to the nation’s most-read story.

“It was a special time,” remembers labourer Ian Knight, who lives a six-minute walk from Captain Tom’s home.

The coffin of Captain Tom was driven through Marston Moretaine on the way to his resting place

“There was huge media interest in him and the village and we were all so proud to have him and it [was] all happening right here, of course. It’s a quiet place where nothing really happens but all of a sudden, we were at the centre of it. It was great and we were amazed at the money coming in.”

Captain Tom, who was later knighted by the late Queen Elizabeth II, died a year later in 2021 after catching pneumonia and Covid-19.

For his funeral, his coffin was driven from his home to Norse Road Crematorium in Bedford through the streets of his village while neighbours decorated signs and walls with red ribbons.

The village’s St Mary’s Church joined the commemorations by ringing the bells 100 times.

A view of the illegally built building on the right of The Old Rectory

The bells of St Mary’s Church rang out for Captain Tom’s funeral, a two-minute walk from The Old Rectory

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