Wartime singer Dame Vera Lynn who became known as the ‘forces sweetheart’ has died at the age of 103. Dame Lynn remained widely respected by both older and younger military personnel, as well as the wider community and continued to support the welfare of the forces right up until her death.
Dame Lynn died peacefully at her home in East Sussex, UK on the 18th June 2020 surrounded by family. She was considered one of Britain’s best entertainers and had continued to perform well into her older years. Her last public performance was in 1995 at Hyde Park to commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE Day. She was best known for her iconic songs ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ which have been credited with helping to shape the mood of wartime Britain.
When the second world war was announced, Dame Lynn was a rising star and a dance band singer. Whilst many will attribute her wartime connection to her best known songs, she actually gained prominence through her radio series, Sincerely Yours, which helped to connect soldiers on the front line with their loved ones at home. This wasn’t enough for Dame Lynn though, and she really wanted to get out there and perform for the soldiers who were so far away from home and their loved ones. She visited troops in Europe and the Middle East and Asia, taking with her her trusted little diary where she would write notes and observations from her travels.
Never one to shy away from difficult situations, Dame Lynn was particularly keen to perform for soldiers who had little access to entertainment. Some of the more prominent camps already had their fair share of entertainment and so Dame Lynn asked to be sent to somewhere where they had little or no entertainment. The response she was given was that the only place meeting that description was Burma. She didn’t hesitate and her decision to visit Burma despite the risks and conditions was perhaps one of her most defining moments.
After the war ended, she returned to her career as a singer and performer, but Dame Lynn’s visits during the war sparked a lifelong dedication to the welfare of veterans. She was awarded an OBE in 1968 and was made a dame in 1975. In 2016, she received a Companion of Honor and on her 100th birthday in 2017, she released a new album. A concert was also held in her honour at the London Palladium.
The coronavirus pandemic has been referenced as being the biggest crisis to affect the UK since World War II and there have been numerous references to Dame Lynn’s iconic songs during the outbreak. From celebrities posting their own versions of her classic songs on social media to the Queen herself quoting ‘we will meet again’ in her address to the nation, Dame Lynn’s had once again been propelled into the spotlight as a beacon of hope, love and support for those who are on the front line, facing uncertainty and sacrificing their own safety to help others.
Part of Dame Lynn’s appeal was her ability to connect with people from all walks of life. She was a working class girl at heart, born to a family in East London. She was the second child of Bertram Welch, who amongst other roles was a plumber and a docker, and Annie, who was a dressmaker. A young Vera would often sing at family parties and by the age of seven, she had started singing at a local working men’s club. She used her grandmother’s maiden name of Lynn, and this was to be the start of a long and fruitful performing career.
Dame Lynn had a brief stint in films, which were primarily designed to boost war-time morale, and continued to perform long after the war had ended. She also faced controversy due to the popularity of her radio show ‘Sincerely Yours’, which did not garner the support of many politicians at the time. After being quoted as a ‘rafaned cockney’, she retorted that ‘millions of cockneys are fighting in this war’.
Dame Lynn remained committed to support charities right up until the end of her life. These included those supporting ex-service personnel as well as those connected to polio, breast cancer, blindness and cerebral palsy. She has had a street named after her called Dame Vera Lynn Close and a trust for children bears her name near her hometown in West Sussex.
Although the curtain may now have fallen on Dame Lynn’s final performance, her contributions, compassion and love will remain ingrained in our culture for many years to come. Her name is associated with comradery, hope and steadfastness, all admirable qualities that our generation will undoubtedly need as we face many unseen challenges and conflicts in the future.