Let’s make June 21 a permanent bank holiday: Captain Sir Tom Day
It is now more than a year on after the first confirmed case of Covid-19 arrived on our shores. We have endured several national lockdowns, an unparalleled economic collapse, over 4 million cases (including myself) and over 120 thousand deaths. It is not an exaggeration to say that in terms of both economic damage and lives lost, this pandemic is a national crisis not seen since the Second World War.
Like the war, both an international and national effort has been fought to beat back this virus. International cooperation on borders, research and vaccine distribution has been crucial to fighting the pandemic, but it remains important to remark at both our national and individual efforts too. We cannot ignore the sacrifices we have all made to reduce infection — including the ultimate sacrifice. No more is the national and individual fight against the virus more poignantly represented than that of Second World War veteran Captain Sir Tom Moore, who as a near-centenarian with limited mobility, begun a modest effort to raise money for NHS charities during the pandemic, eventually raising over £39 million. After being personally knighted by the Queen for his efforts, Tom’s life would end at the age of 100 due to complications from pneumonia as a result of Covid 19 — the very virus that had ravaged the people he raised money to help. Captain Sir Tom had both become an enduring national symbol of sacrifice, hard work, public service, and an admiration for our NHS. He was a living legend, one that in death had become a martyr of our all our work to combat the virus and its far-reaching effects.
Not long prior to Captain Sir Tom’s death, the UK government had eventually, in spite of harsh criticism of their slowness to act, instituted a national lockdown that has been considered one of the toughest in the world. And unlike the major lockdown of last Spring and the minor lockdown of last autumn, the winter lockdown has been met with a sort of fatigue and pain that the novelty of the first lockdown, and brevity of the second lockdown, couldn’t mask. A necessary sacrifice to avoid our NHS from going into overcapacity (as it already had, causing secondary victims of the pandemic), we could do little but watch. Despite some renewed hope in vaccines, and Britain’s exemplarily quick distribution of said vaccines, the British people found themselves with finding a way out of the tunnel but no light to speak of — that was until the 22nd of February 2021.
The 22nd of February saw the government publish its step by step plan to permanently ease the UK out of the current lockdown, with the 21st of June projected as the day all remaining internal restrictions would be eased.
To many people, including myself, this timetable brings plenty of hope and optimism. It finally allows us to count our way out of misery instead of bleakly looking at infection and death rates waiting patiently for the government to act. But the end of Covid restrictions on the 21st of June represents more than simply the return of long-missed freedoms, it is a celebration of the hard work all of us have put into making it possible. Whether you’ve been a home-based worker, an essential worker, a researcher, or a self-shielder, whether you’ve suffered from the virus yourself or lost loved ones to its impact, the sum of all of our individual efforts has made the end of the virus a possibility and averted a greater catastrophe that we otherwise could’ve faced. Much like the national sacrifices undertaken during the World Wars, while things certainly could have panned out better or faster, we crucially ought to commemorate the individual sacrifices that made our victories possible at all.
The World Wars, while formally commemorated in the UK, are not commemorated through bank holidays and despite campaigns to introduce new bank holidays, such as Labour’s promise to make national saints days UK-wide bank holidays, we have not seen a new UK-wide permanent public holiday introduced since 1978. I believe that Britain is well overdue another bank holiday, and the perfect candidate for that day (in between the May and August bank holidays) is the 21st of June.
One of the most obvious benefits of public holidays, in general, is that of leisure and freedom they grant which are otherwise eaten up by work commitments. It is therefore very fitting that in celebration of the defeat of a pandemic that has robbed us of such leisure (as well as having forced many of us out of work or to work very differently), a day to precisely appreciate the very things we have lost should be awarded. Not only can the day live on in remembrance of the people we lost and the sacrifices we made, but unlike many other bank holidays, it actually explicitly celebrates the exercise of the freedoms we sacrificed to have returned.
What to name this bank holiday is particularly tricky; it would express a fair degree of hubris to name it something like “Freedom from Covid day” while the disease is still out there and will likely, and sadly, rage on in the developing world much after the UK is highly vaccinated. Bank holidays in the UK often go unnamed, or originate in named holidays we’ve long since forgot (such as Whit Monday). That said, the naming of public holidays for extraordinary individuals is not without precedent, and one clear example of a modern public holiday introduced after the death of its namesake is that of Martin Luther King Jr Day in the United States. I’m not going to make a complete equivocation between Dr King, a prominent civil rights activist, and Captain Sir Tom, a charity fundraiser and veteran, but both men have plenty of similarities when it comes to their status within each country as national symbols. Martin Luther King Jr Day, more than celebrating the man, celebrates his struggle against legalised racism within the United States. And yet, the symbology of Martin Luther King Jr is often criticised for smoothing the edges of his radical political action and adding a triumphant finality to a clearly still-enduring struggle to end systemic racism in the United States; while Dr King is sadly no longer with us, the problems he described still endure. For someone like Captain Sir Tom however, in the UK we are seeing a trajectory (much like that of Israel) where the pandemic will never dominate society to an enormous extent ever again. That finality is actually there. His efforts, like Dr King’s, was one of many within a wider effort and inspired many more in easing the pandemic’s damage on society’s most vulnerable people. Naming the holiday after him as “Captain Sir Tom Moore Day” would be a fitting commemoration not only for a singular man, but for an entire national effort.
The reality is that Captain Sir Tom was made more into a national symbol than just one man doing laps in his garden to raise money. And by all means, Captain Sir Tom embraced it; he was incredibly pleased to be that symbol when the country was looking for some good news while death and misery was all around us. His story is one of a break from suffering towards hope, of self-sacrifice and love for public service. As a veteran of Britain’s last major crisis effort where our freedoms were massively curtailed for a greater cause, Captain Sir Tom represents a link between one generation’s struggle and our own.
The pandemic has been a multigenerational struggle of which the sacrifices should never be forgotten. Let’s ensure we can remember this struggle permanently, by celebrating our victory over Covid’s dominance on the day the restrictions ended, after a man who was proud to represent this country’s desire to end human suffering. The 21st of June, Sir Captain Tom Day.