Captain Sir Tom Moore has told junior soldiers passing out of their basic training that the “world is an oyster and yours to go and open”.
The 100-year-old Second World War veteran took the salute as almost 300 teenagers graduated from the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
Sir Tom was made honorary colonel of the college earlier this year and returned on Thursday to perform the official duties at the parade, which took place with a range of Covid-related safety precautions.
In his speech, he told the soldiers who have just completed 18 weeks of basic training: “You are starting a future of absolutely unlimited scope. The world is an oyster and yours to go and open.”
Sir Tom told the PA news agency: “For the rest of their lives they’ll find that they are all comrades together.
“That will go on and on, just as it has for me.
“It’s a long time since I was in the forces but I have still got comrades wherever I go.
“It really is a magnificent unit to be in.”
He said that he did not have a passing-out parade when he first trained, saying he was just “thrown into it” and left to “get on with it”.
As well as taking the salute, the fundraising veteran presented the Sir Tom Moore Trophy For Charitable Endeavour as well as awards for the best junior soldier and best shot.
And he watched a flypast of two Apache helicopters.
The parade was a scaled-down version of the passing-out event due to coronavirus, with each soldier allowed only two family guests.
But it was the first since February with any family at all allowed to attend.
The college’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Simon Farebrother, said: “When (Captain Sir Tom Moore) was made our honorary colonel, it was absolutely our priority to get him back to take the salute at one of these parades and I think the junior soldiers were absolutely thrilled.
“You could see the parents and guardians as well – everyone wants to get a photo of him. He’s a proper celebrity and he’s a brilliant spokesman for the college as well.”
Lt Col Farebrother said the college had taken extensive steps to make the parade Covid-safe.
He said that with 350 teenagers still in training at the base “any virus coming in or out is unacceptable”.
Sir Tom raised almost £33 million for the NHS by walking 100 laps of his garden in the village of Marston Moretaine in Bedfordshire before he turned 100 in April.
He was appointed honorary colonel for the college to mark his milestone birthday.
The veteran, who took part in the Battle of Ramree Island as part of the Burma campaign during the Second World War, had set out to raise £1,000 from his lockdown charity challenge but his efforts struck a chord with national feeling and praise and donations flooded in.
He was knighted by the Queen during a unique open-air ceremony at Windsor Castle in July.