Dame Vera Lynn, who has died aged 103, symbolised the spirit and sentiment of the Second World War with evocative songs, which she continued to sing as the country underwent enormous changes over the next 80 years.
Carpers would complain that her best-known numbers were cloying and that she embodied values that were no more. But nobody doubted that she believed her singing had reminded combatants that they were really fighting, as she put it, for “precious, personal things rather than ideologies which gave people hope of better times”.
三级成人视频Her warm place in the public imagination remained until long after she had ceased to have her own television show and had given up touring and singing in public. When We’ll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn, a new collection of her old songs, came out in 2009 it outsold U2 and Eminem, pop performers of whom she had never heard, making her the oldest person to top the album charts.
三级成人视频Further releases to enter the charts were Vera Lynn: National Treasure – The Ultimate Collection in 2014, released for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and Vera Lynn 100, for her centenary, an occasion that was celebrated by the projection of a 350ft image of her face on to the white cliffs of Dover.
This success could be partly explained by her voice, which was both recognisable and compelling. But it was also due to her refusal to adjust to every new, transient public fad but, instead, to adhere to the values of her respectable working-class upbringing.
三级成人视频Although carefully posed photographs made her stunningly attractive, she was also the straightforward, toothy “girl-next-door” whom young servicemen would have liked to marry (while it was said sotto voce that they would have liked only to bed the leggy American actress Betty Grable).
三级成人视频Living up to her image, Vera Lynn married one man, worked hard and, above all, was unflinchingly committed to her “boys”. These were the wartime servicemen all around the Commonwealth and, particularly, the troops of the “Forgotten Fourteenth Army” for whom she had sung in Burma in 1944.
The bond she retained with them decades later awed sons and grandchildren who saw them singing along with her at concerts or on television; and no wartime commemoration seemed complete without her participation.
三级成人视频That she was prepared to exercise her clout on their behalf was demonstrated in 1994 when she was initially left out of plans for the commemoration of the D-Day invasion, and then so appalled by the “fun day” planned in Hyde Park that she announced that she would not sing in what was clearly intended to be a jolly carnival atmosphere if the veterans did not like it.
John Major’s government surrendered immediately; Peter Brooke, the Home Secretary, announced that ex-servicemen’s leaders were “kindly coming to discuss what the plans should be”.
三级成人视频In 2008 she spoke up for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, who were coping with inadequate equipment, and the following year she complained about the failure of modern entertainers to make more trips to the front lines, suggesting that they perhaps travelled with too much equipment to make it “through the jungle”.
三级成人视频The public’s response was partly an expression of that respect which the British have for certain national figures of great age. But it also reflected a need for reassurance at a time when their armed forces were engaged in two difficult conflicts. Vera Lynn seemed a symbol of much that the nation wished it had retained.
She was born Vera Margaret Welch at East Ham, Essex (now part of Greater London), on March 17 1917. Her father was a plumber and master of ceremonies at the local working men’s club where, encouraged by her determined mother, she made her debut at seven singing gushy numbers such as Dream Daddy and What is a Mammy, Daddy?
She joined a juvenile troupe called Madame Harris’s Kracker Kabaret Kids and continued to make solo appearances at other local venues, travelling to gigs by bus and handing over all the money she earned to her mother without demur.
At 14 she left Brampton Road School to take a first job sewing buttons at a local clothing factory for 6s 6d a week. She lasted a day, and never returned after her father realised she could earn more than that for a single song.
三级成人视频Changing her stage name to Vera Lynn she had one unsuccessful singing lesson, at which the instructor tried to persuade her to sing in a higher register.
三级成人视频Some bandleaders did not care for the tall, gawky girl who seemed incongruously at home on stage and behind the microphone. They admitted that she sang in tune, but she had an unusual voice that was loud, penetrating and pitched surprisingly low, which meant that her accompaniments had to be rearranged.
Henry Hall, leader of the BBC Dance Orchestra, turned her down. When Billy Cotton hired her at 17 she found him rude. “He criticised my hair, and I told him my mother liked it, and he told me to go and sing for her then. So I left,” she recalled.
三级成人视频But Charlie Kunz and the young Joe Loss invited her to make broadcasts with them and she started to make records for Woolworths, first anonymously and then earning a line in small print: “Vocal refrain by Vera Lynn”.
She then graduated to the sophisticated Ambrose Orchestra, though Bert Ambrose at first used her only on a Radio Luxembourg show, sponsored by Lifebuoy toilet soap, until limited exposure on a BBC broadcast, when she was rationed to one song, brought a flood of fan mail. Even then, Ambrose made it clear that he preferred his other female singer, the American Evelyn Dall.
三级成人视频The day war was declared, the government announced that all cinemas, theatres and other places of entertainment would be closed until further notice, so that Vera Lynn’s first thought as she sat in her garden at East Ham was: “Oh dear, there goes my singing career.”
三级成人视频It was assumed that all the musicians would be called up, and she saw herself ending up in a munitions factory. But her reputation was growing steadily, and in January 1940 it was reported that she was selling more records than Bing Crosby.
Her minor hits included Red Sails in the Sunset; Goodnight Children, Everywhere; When the Lights of London Shine Again and even We’ll Meet Again. But with the advent of war it became clear that the public no longer craved driving Swing music in the hour of danger but slow nostalgic numbers.
This was not wholeheartedly welcomed. The BBC had been resisting the increasing popularity of female singers with bands even before hostilities broke out, and while noting the popularity of her half-hour request programme, Sincerely Yours, which came on air just after Winston Churchill had spoken to the nation, the Corporation’s governors wondered whether “sentimental twaddle” was what was really required.
三级成人视频Encouraged by some retired service officers and belligerent MPs, the Board of Governors worried that “insincere” performances by female singers and anaemic renderings by male crooners might damage the martial spirit of troops far from home.
An “anti-slush committee” was duly formed to protect the nation’s moral fibre. BBC staff were instructed: “There should be no slow foxtrots, dreary numbers or vocals of the sob stuff, order plenty of snap and punch. Just try to make the period one of unrelieved brightness and cheeriness.”
三级成人视频But a radio critic in Melody Maker gallantly rushed to Vera Lynn’s rescue, pointing out that the bulk of requests sent in by soldiers of the Eighth Army to the Overseas Service were for sentimental tunes, with “recordings by Miss Vera Lynn specifically and predominantly asked for”.
Her position was confirmed when she beat Judy Garland and Deanna Durbin in a poll to find the “Forces’ Sweetheart”.
三级成人视频Answering the mounting flood of letters addressed to her personally, Vera Lynn liked to reply with a signed photograph or a parcel of cigarettes, particularly if a writer was recuperating in a bed at a military hospital named after her.
At the same time she toured the country in shows, visited factories and Army camps and made three films in which she played herself, We’ll Meet Again, Rhythm Serenade and One Exciting Night; they were “lousy”, she recalled years later.
三级成人视频She also appeared in the West End revue Applesauce, where she often found herself singing A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square during an air raid while her audience stoically remained in their seats.
Driving around London in her soft-top Austin 10, with a tin hat on the front seat, she was often accompanied by Harry Lewis, a cocky, rather scruffy man who played saxophone with Ambrose before leaving with several other players to form the RAF band, the Squadronaires.
三级成人视频As Lewis entered the register office for their wedding in 1941, he heard an old woman saying: “There she goes with her first”.
Whenever duties permitted, Lewis was her constant companion, becoming her business manager, agent and lighting engineer after the war, protecting her from the outside world and peremptorily asking any phone caller: “What do you want her for?” Pressed for further revelations about their marriage he would say: “Most times, and I stress most times, she’s a nice person.”
In 1944 Vera Lynn undertook her toughest wartime assignment, a tour of the Burma front, as a member of the military entertainment organisation Ensa, taking with her the pianist Len Edwards, who wore a revolver for protection and to whom she gave her small salary.
Singing for audiences that ranged from 6,000 to two patients who were too ill to be moved from a casualty clearing station, she progressed from North Africa to Iraq and India before arriving on Burma’s Arakan Road, where she was unaware of the RAF aircraft following overhead.
The sound of her singing “When I’m over there / think of me in every prayer” being broadcast amid the whines and crumps of battle was hypnotically reassuring.
But while the men appreciated her singing Yours and The White Cliffs of Dover, she came to recognise how much the young soldiers valued the contact she represented with the homes they had not seen for years. In touring hospitals she would sit on their beds and, if alone with one, listen to the concerns that would sometimes pour out with accompanying tears.
They knew that she was sharing many of their hardships, sleeping on stretchers, eating indifferent food and going for weeks before having a bath in a tin tub. Sitting down on one occasion, she asked for some water, to be gently told: “We’ve no drinking water, but there’s some lemonade if you like”.
Although she brought one frilly pink dress with her, it hung so inelegantly from her body in the damp heat and offered so little protection against the mosquitoes, that most of the time she switched to battledress, relying only on lipstick for make-up.
Only once was she aware of the authorities intervening significantly, when two BBC correspondents were forbidden to take her close to the front line to be recorded singing to the sound of gunfire, a senior officer intervening with what was to become all-too-familiar cliché, “She’s a national institution”.
Instead of facing the enemy she sat drinking Canadian Club whisky with the reporters in front of a grass hut surrounded by barbed wire.
That tour was a defining experience for Vera Lynn, as it was an important moment for the men. But on returning home after three months just as the Normandy invasion was getting under way, friends, under attack from doodlebugs, joked: “It was peaceful until you came back”.
By now she was the subject of legend. Soldiers were said to have crawled out of the jungle to hear her on the wireless. Patients in military hospitals were allowed to stay up late to listen to her. Yet she now found herself the victim of what she regarded as spiteful impersonations on air, which she failed to scotch by resorting to the law, though the BBC made some effort to prevent them.
After her home at Barking was bombed, Vera Lynn bought a Sussex mansion with 40 acres, employing two land girls and four outdoor staff, and settled down to have her only daughter, whose arrival was greeted by the donation by well-wishers of thousands of silver pieces to be placed in the baby’s hand for good luck.
But although the rural life suited her husband, who had been invalided out of the RAF, the farm ran at a loss, and she eventually returned to London to fulfil her recording contract with Decca, widening her repertoire with such numbers as Our Baby and The World Belongs to You, Little Man.
三级成人视频Then, despite her loyal following, a BBC executive told her in 1949 that “sob stuff” was no longer wanted and that she would have to change her style; in compensation he offered to put her into somebody else’s programme where she could sing “one bright song”.
By then, however, she was becoming aware of her fans abroad, though their favourite numbers were sometimes different from those most popular in Britain.
In Denmark she was best known for a recording she had made of the Gracie Field’s number Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye. In the Netherlands her biggest hit was Land of Hope and Glory, sung with a massed choir.
When Vera and her husband were on holiday in Lucerne they heard children singing Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart, which, translated into English, reached the top of the American hit parade.
The BBC in London persisted in its resistance while its New York office sold Vera’s Christmas Song to the local commercial network. She set off for America, full of regret to be leaving England and her friends behind, to appear on Tallulah Bankhead’s Big Show radio programme, tartly adding that “only the brains at the BBC” could explain why she had been consistently snubbed.
The singer Betty Hutton, who was another guest, ostentatiously sat with her back to the unknown Englishwoman during one programme. But Vera Lynn did not succumb to the allure of American life, missing the chance to do her own cooking, and returned home after seven weeks to join the revived West End show London Laughs, with Jimmy Edwards and Tony Hancock.
Eventually the BBC relented, and although she never returned to being the ubiquitous radio presence she had been during the war, she had radio and television shows and toured Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, where ex-servicemen showed that their love for her remained undimmed.
三级成人视频Making some effort to adjust to the times, in 1952 she had three Top Ten hits in the first official British singles chart, and four years later reached the No 1 spot with My Son, My Son. Although no lover of rock’n’roll, she had shows which featured Cliff Richard and the Generation Game dance troupe. She even made an album entitled Hits of the Sixties.
三级成人视频After singing in public for the last time outside Buckingham Palace in 1995, she found herself still in demand from her charities, taking no fees and raising large sums for such organisations as the Spastics Society (now Scope), the Breast Cancer Research Trust and Age Concern.
And there were still the Burma Star Association and Desert Rats reunions, events to raise money for the War Widows Association, where she would champion the later veterans of the Falklands and the Gulf.
三级成人视频Appointed OBE in 1969, DBE in 1975 and CH in 2016, Vera Lynn never completely retired from her public role. Continuing to live at the village of Ditchling in East Sussex after her husband died in 1997, she enjoyed her garden, took part in a march against foreign juggernaut lorries, spoke up for her local post office when it was under threat, and protested against a proposal for a drilling rig off the Sussex coast.
To the end she took a close interest in the nation’s affairs. Interviewed by The Daily Telegraph this year she reflected on the peril of coronavirus, insisting: “I am a firm believer in carrying on. It is so important to keep going, keep smiling and keep hoping even when things are tough.”
And in the May edition of The Oldie magazine she wrote: “I sense that we are again pulling together as a nation now, and drawing on that wartime spirit of solidarity, in the face of a very different but deadly modern enemy, coronavirus: the biggest threat to our way of life in decades.”
Such was Vera Lynn’s fixed position in national life that when the journalist Quentin Letts accompanied her, for the Telegraph, on the London to Brighton veteran car rally – during which she waved every 10 seconds – he wrote that he now knew what it was like to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother.
While memories inevitably fade with passing generations, her version of The White Cliffs of Dover (the song’s American lyricist was apparently unaware that bluebirds are not found in Britain) will last as long as there is a desire for its heartening patriotic sentiments.
She is survived by her daughter.
Dame Vera Lynn, born March 17 1917, died June 18 2020