On Monday, March 20, 2017, Britain’s singing legend Dame Vera Lynn, celebrated her 100th birthday.
Dame Vera is as iconic as the Queen.
Incredibly, on March 17, Decca Records released her latest album, Vera Lynn 100: We’ll Meet Again. She is thought to be the first centenarian to have a new album on sale.
The London Evening Standard reports (emphases mine below):
The record comes eight years after Dame Vera became the oldest living artist to land a UK number one album and also marks the wartime singer’s 93 years in the industry as she made her stage debut at the age of seven.
New re-orchestrated versions of her most beloved music alongside her original vocals will feature on the music release …
The album also features a previously unreleased version of Sailing – a surprise find as it was not widely known she had recorded the track.
A photo of her with a Happy Birthday message was projected onto the white cliffs of Dover, also the name of one of her greatest wartime hits. Others, too numerous to mention, included We’ll Meet Again and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square:
Dame Vera still lives at home in Ditchling, East Sussex.
Yesterday, the BBC reported that she participated in a Skype call from home with students from her old school, Brampton Primary School in East Ham, east London. The students serenaded her with a selection of her most famous songs.
The Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity held a daytime party on top of the white cliffs of Dover. It was very windy that day, but:
veterans, re-enactors and the Singing Sweethearts serenaded Dame Vera and sang happy birthday.
A military-style salute and flag-waving carried on regardless, all in support of her children’s charity but also celebrating the 100th birthday of our own Forces’ Sweetheart.
The Evening Standard reported:
Dame Vera said: “It is an unprecedented honour to have my birthday marked in such a beautiful way and I am truly thrilled by this wonderful gesture.
“As we look to the white cliffs on Monday, I will be thinking of all our brave boys – the cliffs were the last thing they saw before heading off to war and, for those fortunate enough to return, the first thing they saw upon returning home.
“I feel so blessed to have reached this milestone and I can’t think of a more meaningful way to mark the occasion.”
BBC Radio 2 asked her for her advice on ageing:
… she said: “Be active to your full capabilities.
“Keep interested, read books, watch television and try to keep in touch with life and what people are doing, seeing and enjoying.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 2, she added: “While you can do that, I hope you will continue.”
Finally! Someone who defends television! Thank you, Dame Vera!
Dame Vera gave an exclusive newspaper interview to The Sun:
“I try not to worry too much about anything any more, and enjoy every day as it comes,” she says.
“There is always something we can be concerned about. The secret is to rise above it and do whatever we can to make the world a better place.”
As for the young Second World War troops who loved her and her music:
she is still full of praise for the true Brits who gave up everything to bring peace to future generations.
She adds: “The war was a dark and difficult time but it was quite easy to keep faith when I saw for myself the sacrifices being made by the boys on the front line and everyone on the Home Front.
“The community spirit and collective sense of patriotism saw us all through.”
“The white cliffs were the last thing they saw before they left for war and, for those fortunate enough to return, the first thing they saw to tell them they were home.”
The Sun reminds us of why Dame Vera was The Forces’ Sweetheart:
To borrow from the familiar lyrics, millions of men and women didn’t have the chance to meet their loved ones again some sunny day.
But at least Vera gave them hope and comfort in the darkness and it explains why she ranks her people’s title of Forces Sweetheart as highly as any official accolade.
“I consider it to be one of my greatest achievements,” she affirms. “I feel very honoured that people regard me in this way.
“I am exceptionally fond of all the brave servicemen and women who have worked, and continue to work, to keep us safe and secure, and protect our values.”
The BBC has a great retrospective, complete with family photos, of Dame Vera’s life and career. Highlights follow:
Vera Welch was born on 20 March 1917 in East Ham in London. Neither of her parents were involved in showbusiness – her father Bertram was a plumber and mother Annie a dressmaker. But by the age of seven, the talented young Vera was singing in working men’s clubs – an audience she described as “great” – and soon became the family’s main breadwinner.
This is my favourite:
When she turned 11, Vera took her grandmother’s maiden name of Lynn as a stage name. She had no formal singing lessons as a child – and just one as an adult. She said: “I thought I could extend my range but when the teacher heard me sing she said ‘I cannot train that voice, it’s not a natural voice’. So I said: ‘Well thank you very much madam’, and left.”
I do wonder what that teacher thought later! You know what they say: ‘Those who can’t do …’
Dame Vera started singing professionally at the age of 15 and released her first single at the age of 19:
By the age of 22 she had sold more than a million records, bought her parents a house and herself a car.
During the Second World War, she went on tour:
it was during World War Two that her reputation was made. She frequently sang to the troops at morale-boosting concerts, becoming known to posterity as The Forces’ Sweetheart.
She married Harry Lewis in 1941. They had a daughter, Virginia. Harry died in 1998. Mother and daughter are still very close.
Dame Vera appeared on radio shows. Below, she is the lady in the fur coat:
Dame Vera’s career and fame continued after the war ended:
She was appointed OBE in 1969, made a Dame in 1975, and a Companion of Honour in 2016. Her wartime fame meant she was never far from the television screens …
She enjoyed meeting new talent:
She made the acquaintance of glam rock band Slade in 1973, when they gathered round a piano at the Melody Maker Awards.
Her records continue to sell very well and she:
holds the record for being the oldest living artist to achieve a top 20 UK album.
Over the years, Dame Vera has participated in many Second World War commemorative events.
In closing, this is what the Queen wrote Dame Vera on her 100th birthday:
You cheered and uplifted us all in the War and after the War, and I am sure that this evening the blue birds of Dover will be flying over to wish you a happy anniversary, Elizabeth R.
Many happy returns, Dame Vera Lynn!