NHS fundraiser Captain Tom is made a colonel on his 100th birthday - here are the army ranks explained

Captain Tom Moore has been made an honorary colonel by the Queen to mark his 100th birthday (Photo: Getty/Capture the Light Photography)Captain Tom Moore has been made an honorary colonel by the Queen to mark his 100th birthday (Photo: Getty/Capture the Light Photography)
Captain Tom Moore has been made an honorary colonel by the Queen to mark his 100th birthday (Photo: Getty/Capture the Light Photography)

Captain Tom Moore has been made an honorary colonel by the Queen to mark his 100th birthday, after raising £30million for NHS Charities Together.

The war veteran’s birthday has also been marked with an RAF flypast and special greetings from the Queen and Prime Minister.

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But what is the rank of a colonel - and how does it differ to being a captain? Here’s what you need to know.

Why was Captain Tom made a colonel?

The war veteran walked laps of his garden to raise the funds during the coronavirus lockdown to raise money for healthcare workers.

Captain Tom has now raised £30million for NHS Charities Together and walked 200 laps of his garden in total.

He was informed of his promotion to honorary colonel in a letter presented to him at his home by Lt Col Thomas Miller, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment.

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Capt Tom said, “"Although I can't use it in public it really is something special to be able to say honorary colonel.

"I'm still Captain Tom, that's who I really am but if people choose to call me colonel, well, thank you very much!"

What’s a colonel?

A colonel, like a captain, is one of the ‘officer’ rankings, which differs from that of ‘soldier’ rankings.

The British Army website explains, “The rank system forms the backbone of the Army's structure and it defines a soldier or officer's role and degree of responsibility.”

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A colonel is three steps higher in the officers rankings than a captain. The British Army explains that Colonels are not usually field commanders, except in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Colonels typically serve as staff officers between field commands at a battalion or brigade level. It is the lowest of the staff ranks and they are the principal advisors to senior officers.

What is a Captain?

Tom Moore’s previous ranking was that of a captain, which the British Army explains is a role typically held for five to ten years.

As a Captain, you will normally be made second in command of a sub-unit of between 50 - 120 soldiers.

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Captain’s play an important role in the planning and decision-making process and have tactical responsibility for operations on the ground. They also have responsibility for equipment maintenance, logistic support and manpower.

Capt Tom joined the army at the beginning of World War Two. He served in India and Myanmar, which was then known as Burma.

After the war he became an instructor at the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School in Bovington, Dorset.

What are the different officer ranks?

Officer cadet

This is the rank held during initial officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst or in the University Officers' Training Corps.

Second lieutenant

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The rank held on commissioning from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst - it is normally held for one to two years.


The rank of Lieutenant is typically held for two to three years and they normally command a platoon or troop of around 30 soldiers, with increased responsibilities from being a Second Lieutenant.


The rank of Captain is typically held for five to ten years, and Captains are normally made second-in-command of a sub-unit of up to 120 soldiers.


A Major will typically be given command of a sub-unit of up to 120 officers and soldiers with responsibility for their training, welfare and administration both in camp and op operations.

Lieutenant colonel

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Typically, Lieutenant Colonels command units of up to 650 soldiers, containing four or five sub-units - known as the Commanding Officer.


Typically, they serve as staff officers between field commands at battalion/brigade level.

Brigadier (aka 1 star)

Brigadier is not considered to be a General officer rank by the British Army but rather a Field officer rank.

Major general (aka 2 star)

Major Generals command formations of division size and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and hold senior staff appointments in the Ministry of Defence and other headquarters.

Lieutenant general (aka 3 star)

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Lieutenant Generals command formations of Corps size and other commands in theUK and overseas.

General (aka 4 star)

Generals hold the most senior appointments, such as Chief of Defence Staff, Vice Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of the general Staff, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and Commander in Chief Land Forces.

Field marshal

The highest rank in the British Army since 1736. The rank of Field Marshal has become an honorary rank. The last active officer to be promoted to the rank in 1994.

What are the different soldier ranks?


On completion of Basic Training, all new soldiers start as Privates.

Lance corporal

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Promotion to Lance Corporal may follow after Initial Trade Training, or after about four years as a Private. Lance Corporals are then required to supervise a small team of up to four soldiers called a section.


After six to eight years, and depending on their ability to lead, promotion to Corporal typically follows. Additional trade and instructor qualifications can be gained, and Corporals are given command of more soldiers and equipment.


Sergeant is a senior role of responsibility. Promotion typically takes place after 12 years of service, depending on ability. Sergeants are typically second in command of a troop or platoon of up to 35 soldiers.

Staff sergeant

After a few years as a Sergeant promotion to either Staff or Colour Sergeant may follow.

Warrant officer class 2

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This is a senior management role focussing on the training, welfare and discipline of a company, squadron or battery of up to 120 soldiers.

Warrant officer class 1

The most senior soldier rank in the British Army, typically reached after 18 years of outstanding service.