Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces’ Sweetheart, Dies at 103

It was announced today that Dame Vera Lynn, the singer known as the Forces’ Sweetheart whose songs helped build morale in the Second World War, has died at the age of 103.

Dame Vera, whose best-known song We’ll Meet Again was referred to by The Queen in her speech about the coronavirus crisis in April, was best known for entertaining frontline troops in far-flung places such as India and Egypt during the war.

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Her family confirmed that she died surrounded by her relatives on Thursday 18th June, saying they were “deeply saddened to announce the passing of one of Britain’s best-loved entertainers”. Information on a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, paid tribute to Dame Vera Lynn saying her “charm and magical voice entranced and uplifted our country in some of our darkest hours…her voice will live on to lift the hearts of generations to come.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Her songs still speak to the nation in 2020 just as they did in 1940.”

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The Very Best

In 2009, at the age of 92, Dame Vera Lynn became the oldest living artist to top the UK Albums Chart with the compilation album We’ll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn, and a few weeks ago Dame Vera Lynn became the oldest artist to get a Top 40 album in the UK when her Greatest Hits collection re-entered the charts at number 30. She spoke on the 75th anniversary of VE Day and at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, saying that simple acts of bravery and sacrifice still define our nation.

Among Dame Vera Lynn’s best-known songs were The White Cliffs Of Dover, There’ll Always Be An England, I’ll Be Seeing You, Wishing and If Only I Had Wings.

Dame Vera Lynn’s daughter, Virginia Lewis-Jones, said she was proud of the difference her mother made through work for charities including the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity, which her mother founded to help young children with cerebral palsy, and which “always held a very special place in her heart”.

Vera Lynn munitions factory
Dame Vera Lynn visiting a UK munitions factory in 1942

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Dame Vera Lynn was born in East Ham, London in 1917, and by the age of 11 she was a full-time singer and dancer. In a Daily Express poll in 1939 she was voted the favourite entertain among the forces, and earned her nickname ‘The Forces’ Sweetheart’. She broadcast from the Criterion Theatre, London in the heart of the Blitz, and had sold a million records by the age of 22. Her popularity never waned despite the feeling in government circles that her songs were slushy and sentimental, when what was needed was something more stirring.

Greatest Ever

Lyricist Sir Tim Rice described Dame Vera Lynn as “one of the greatest ever British popular singers, not just because of her immaculate voice, warm, sincere, instantly recognisable and musically flawless. She will be remembered just as affectionately for her vital work in the Second World War and for her own charitable foundations in the 75 years since.”

Actress Miriam Margolyes said: “Dame Vera never lost her reality. The voice like a bell was a gift, which she shared so generously and bravely. But the magic was that her personality was genuine, open, warm. Meeting her was one of the high points of my life. She looked at you and saw you. And connected. There is no one in our lives, except the Queen, who had the power to connect a nation. For that, she will be remembered and always with love.”

Tenor Alfie Boe, who recently sang with Dame Vera Lynn on We’ll Meet Again, tweeted “Rest in peace Dame Vera Lynn. Truly a national treasure, and this is such sad news to hear, especially at this time when her iconic song and spirit touched the nation. It was a real pleasure to sing with her – an honour I will treasure forever.”

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Theatre director Roger Redfarn, who had been a friend of Dame Vera Lynn since since the 1970s and was a neighbour in the village of Ditchling in East Sussex, said: “The world knows of her great voice that through the good and bad times has thrilled millions. My own father firmly believed that the Second World War was won by Sir Winston Churchill and Vera Lynn.

“As a friend she was the warmest and kindest of people. I never saw her angry or say a bad word of anyone, people would stop her in the street and she always found time for them.

“She cared particularly about our armed forces, ‘her boys’ as she called them. Her work for charity, especially young people with cerebral palsy was tireless and inspiring.

“There will never be anyone like her again.”

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Broadcast tribute

Charity fundraiser Sir Tom Moore, singer Katherine Jenkins and the British Legion also posted tributes to Dame Vera Lynn, and the BBC confirmed that it will broadcast a tribute programme at 7:30pm on Thursday.

The programme will detail the life and career of Dame Very Lynn, the singer known as the Forces’ Sweetheart, who it was announced today has died at the age of 103.

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