In Memoriam: Vera Lynn

Vera Lynn, the world-famous British singer of World War II, has died at the age of 103.  The New York Times reports:

“Churchill didn’t beat the Nazis,” the British comedian Harry Secombe once said. “Vera sang them to death.”

Ms. Lynn herself once said: “People used to say that my singing gave them courage and hope. I think that is a great compliment.”

. . .

At 22, in 1939, Ms. Lynn won The Daily Express newspaper’s “Forces’ Sweetheart” poll in a landslide. In 1940, she began her own BBC radio show, “Sincerely Yours,” which was beamed to troops around the world on Sunday nights right after the news.

“Winston Churchill was my opening act,” Ms. Lynn once said.

She read letters from the girlfriends, wives and mothers the troops had left behind. She sang her sentimental songs, “We’ll Meet Again” being the most popular. In the blitz that sent the Luftwaffe on nightly bombing raids over London in 1940, she sometimes slept in the theater until the all-clear sounded, then drove home through the rubble.

“The shows didn’t stop if a raid started,” she said. “We just used to carry on.”

Often, it seemed, Luftwaffe bombers droned over London just as Ms. Lynn sang “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” which became the theme song of the blitz.

. . .

Even in Nazi-occupied Europe, where death was the penalty for listening to the BBC, Ms. Lynn had her fans. “The Dutch used to listen to my programs in haystacks and hide themselves away,” she said. “They’d listen to the 9 o’clock news on Sunday night. It was their only link to the outside world.”

Ms. Lynn toured Burma (now Myanmar) for three months in 1944, earning the enduring affection of the so-called Forgotten Army, which battled the Japanese in jungle combat there. She started her journey with chiffon ball gowns, and when they fell apart, she finished in shorts. (They wound up as an exhibit in the Imperial War Museum in London.)

There’s more at the link.

I grew up to Vera Lynn’s music.  Both of my parents lived through World War II, and loved her songs dearly.  Her music was readily available on LP records, and they bought new ones to replace those they wore out through constant listening.  I remember one in particular titled “Hits of the Blitz“, which is still available.  It was the soundtrack to my early years.

I daresay, if there’s any sort of cosmic justice, she was welcomed into the next life by a massed cheer from all the servicemen and their families whose spirits were lifted by her songs during the war.  I’m sure my parents would have been among them.

I’ll devote the next “Sunday Morning Music” post to her songs.  Meanwhile, to all who’ll miss her, here’s a reminder.



  1. That was lovely.

    I had heard that song before but never really knew who Vera Lynn was. Now I know.

    Ironically, when I was a kid, we sometimes heard that on an old Telefunken radio my dad brought back from the occupation.

    Thank you for the link.

  2. Peter,

    Even more than her music, she should be remembered for her kindness. She answered thousands of letters from soldiers, soldiers wives, kids and grand kids.
    Uncounted casual meetings done with grace and kindness.

    That is truly worthy of respect.

  3. I never really knew who Vera Lynn was. Knowing now her story, her contribution to the war effort was almost as heroic as many of the men who faced the bullets and other weapons of the axis powers. Not that the dangers were the same, but her contribution would have been immeasurable.
    I have an uncle,now gone sadly, who was a lifer in the U.S. Army, who served in both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. He was a communications guy, who ran wire and such. He was not ever in a battle in Vietnam, but in Korea, he was in one, very horrible fight, in which the Chinese had just gotten involved in a big way, and he said the they came in wave upon wave of people, with some of them not even carrying a weapon, but picking up the guns of the guys that were killed before them.
    He told me that he saw Bob Hope several times, in both places, and that after the show, which always included at least a few pretty girls, and usually one famous actress or singer, Bob Hope would sit around with a bunch of the men, and tell dirty jokes with them for an hour or two, just giving of his time.
    For reasons such as that, I have always respected anyone who volunteers to go and meet the service members we have overseas, either in a war zone or not, and takes the time to let them know that what they are doing is important and that they are not forgotten. It seems like Vera Lynn did just such a thing for the vets of her day. Rest in peace, forever in our hearts and with our thanks for your heroism.


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