The Forces' Sweetheart

BY JILLIAN MACKENZIE

Dame Vera Lynn was born Vera Margaret Welch on 20 March 1917 in East Ham, Essex, England.

She was a singer, variety and recording star, actress and writer, but found lasting fame with her sentimental songs and sweet and wholesome persona which endeared her to the public and troops during the Second World War and after.

In 1939 the Daily Express newspaper polled service personnel to learn their favourite entertainer and Vera won, earning her the nickname the 'Forces’ sweetheart'.

Listen to Australian radio personality Binny Lum interviewing Vera Lynn in 1963:

Beloved at home and abroad

Vera began singing in public at the age of 7. When she was 11, she adopted her maternal grandmother’s maiden name to use as a stage name. She left school at 14 after being spotted by a booking agent who found her work at parties and events.

By age 22, she sold more than a million records and is especially remembered for singing 'The White Cliffs of Dover', 'There Will Always Be an England' and 'I’ll Be Seeing You'.

However, Vera is best known for her rendition of the popular song 'We’ll Meet Again', written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles. When the song debuted in 1939, Vera’s wistful low-pitched rendition of the poignant lyrics resonated with service personnel and their families. The song beautifully articulated the yearning felt by those separated from their loved ones by war. 

As a result of her popularity, Vera was given her own BBC radio show, Sincerely Yours, Vera Lynn, in November 1941. On it she sent messages to British troops serving abroad and sang soldiers' requests, backed by a quartet of musicians. Vera also visited wounded personnel in hospital and interviewed soldiers' wives to send personal messages to their absent husbands. She went on tour and performed outdoor concerts for the troops in Egypt, India and Burma.

She remained popular after the war, frequently appearing on stage, radio and television. She was a much-loved guest on The Mike Walsh Show here in Australia. This is a clip of Vera being interviewed by Mike Walsh in 1979:

Uniting Britain in 2020

Vera was the first English artist to hit No. 1 on the American record charts, with 'Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart' in 1952. In 2017 she became the oldest living artist to have an album in the UK Top 10 with her album 100, featuring re-imaginings of her greatest hits to celebrate her 100th birthday.

Dame Vera Lynn recently used her 103rd birthday to call on the British public to find 'moments of joy during these hard times' and marked the occasion with a new video for her wartime classic 'We’ll Meet Again'. The BBC also released a 'We'll Meet Again' video featuring archival footage of her performing the song alongside special VE Day 75 performances, including from essential workers in Britain during the COVID-19 lockdown.

She released a statement on her 103rd birthday in 2020:

'All around the world, people are facing extremely difficult times. It is likely that we all will have to make hard decisions in the coming months. I am reminded of World War Two, when our country faced the darkest of times and yet, despite our struggles, pulled together for the common good and we faced the common threat together as a country, and as a community of countries that joined as one right across the world.'

Vera passed away on Thursday 18 June 2020 surrounded by close relatives.

Here is a clip from another appearance of Vera Lynn on The Mike Walsh Show, this time from 1982: