AP

World War II forces sweetheart singer Vera Lynn dies at 103

Jun 18, 2020, 5:54 AM
FILE - In this Friday Aug. 20, 2010 file photo, Dame Vera Lynn attends a ceremony to mark the 70th ...
FILE - In this Friday Aug. 20, 2010 file photo, Dame Vera Lynn attends a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. in central London. The family of World War II forces sweetheart Vera Lynn says she has died. She was 103 it was reported on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)

LONDON (AP) — Dame Vera Lynn, the endearingly popular “Forces’ Sweetheart” who serenaded British troops abroad during World War II, has died at 103.

During the war and long after, Lynn got crowds singing, smiling and crying with sentimental favorites such as “We’ll Meet Again,” and “The White Cliffs of Dover.”

 

“The family are deeply saddened to announce the passing of one of Britain’s best-loved entertainers at the age of 103,” her family said in a statement. “Dame Vera Lynn, who lived in Ditchling, East Sussex, passed away earlier today, 18 June 2020, surrounded by her close family.”

Lynn possessed a down-to-earth appeal, reminding servicemen of the ones they left behind.

“I was somebody that they could associate with,” she once told The Associated Press. “I was an ordinary girl.”

Tributes poured in from political leaders, entertainers, veterans and thousands of fans.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said 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.”

Lynn hosted a wildly popular BBC radio show during the war called “Sincerely Yours” in which she sent messages to British troops abroad and performed the songs they requested. The half-hour program came on during the highly coveted slot following the Sunday night news.

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

Lynn had thought the war would doom her chance of success.

“When war first started, when it was declared, I thought, ‘Well there goes my career.’ You know, I shall finish up in a factory or the army or somewhere,” she recalled. “You imagined all the theaters closing down, which didn’t happen except when the sirens sounded. And everybody, if they wanted to, they could stay in the theater and the show would go on.”

In September 2009, long after her retirement, Lynn topped the British album chart with a best hits collection titled “We’ll Meet Again — The Very Best of Vera Lynn.” It reached No. 1, despite competition from the release of remastered Beatles’ albums.

Amid this year’s coronavirus outbreak, Lynn and opera singer Katherine Jenkins released a charity version of “We’ll Meet Again.” The public found comfort in her words of hope, which resonated in the locked-down country.

In a reflection of her enduring appeal, Queen Elizabeth II also invoked the words of Lynn’s signature song as she addressed the nation in lockdown. The monarch played on the song’s theme, promising that loved ones would be reunited in the end after being separated by the virus.

“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return,” the queen said. “We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

Lynn earned her nickname, “The Forces’ Sweetheart,” after coming top in a 1939 Daily Express poll that asked servicemen to name their favorite musical artists. Years later, she reflected on time spent with soldiers abroad.

“What they needed was a contact from home,” she said. “I entertained audiences from 2,000 to 6,000. And the boys would just come out of the jungle and sit there for hours waiting until we arrived and then slip back in once we’d left.”

A plumber’s daughter, Vera Margaret Welch was born on March 20, 1917, in London’s blue-collar East Ham neighborhood.

She took her stage name from her grandmother’s maiden name. She started singing in social clubs at age 7 and dropped out of school by 11 when she started touring Britain with a traveling variety show. By 17 she was a band singer, and at 21 — when the war started — she was a known performer.

She married band musician Harry Lewis in 1941, and he went on to manage her career. They had one daughter, Virginia.

Lynn appeared in a handful of films: “We’ll Meet Again” (1942), playing a young dancer who discovers her singing voice; “Rhythm Serenade” (1943), in which she plays a woman who joins the Women’s Royal Navy and organizes a nursery in a munitions factory; and “One Exciting Night” (1944), a comedy about a singer who is mistakenly caught up in a kidnapping.

While Lynn is best remembered for her work during the war, she had great success during the post-war years. Her “Auf Wiedersehen Sweetheart” in 1952 became the first record by an English artist to top the American Billboard charts, staying there for nine weeks. Lynn’s career flourished in the 1950s, peaking with “My Son, My Son,’’ a No. 1 hit in 1954.

After staying away from the business for years, she had a 1970s comeback single “Don’t You Remember When” and even covered Abba’s “Thank you for the Music,” but fans still really wanted to hear the wartime classics. Lynn was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1975.

In the years that followed she continued to support veterans’ causes and raise money for research on cancer and cystic fibrosis. She set up her own charity for children with cerebral palsy, and was a forceful advocate for her causes. She played an important part in a 1989 campaign to win a better pension deal for World War II widows, and until 2010 was actively involved in various veterans charities.

On occasion, Lynn delighted fans by taking up the microphone again. She sang outside Buckingham Palace in 1995 in a ceremony marking the golden jubilee of VE Day. In recent years, Lynn lived a quiet village life in Ditchling, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of London.

She did make fleeting mini-appearances, particularly when veterans were involved. During ceremonies last year to mark the D-Day landings, a pre-recorded wish was played to a ballroom full of veterans on a ship sailing to France to mark the event. Tears flowed as Lynn spoke. When she was done, the thunderous applause rattled the windows.

They remembered her many appearances, and the fact that she traveled to Burma to entertain the troops, one of the few entertainers to take on the difficult journey.

Burma veteran Tom Moore, who won over the hearts of the nation when he walked 100 laps of his garden in the runup to his 100th birthday to raise money for the National Health Service during the pandemic, described her death as a “real shame.”

“I really thought Vera Lynn would live longer,” he said on Twitter. “She’s been speaking so well on TV recently.”

Today’s Top Stories

AP

A female bison and calf are seen near the Yellowstone River in Wyoming's Hayden Valley, on Wednesda...
Mark Jones

2nd visitor in 3 days gored by Yellowstone National Park bison

In less than a week, two visitors to Yellowstone National Park have been gored by bison. Park officials say to stay at least 25 yards away from a bison.
2 days ago
Travelers wait in for a TSA security check at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles,...
DAVID KOENIG ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pre-pandemic sized crowds descend on US airports for holiday

TSA is reporting crowds of pre-pandemic size are traveling this Independence Day.
2 days ago
Residents stand in front of building destroyed by missiles in Ukraine...
FRANCESCA EBEL Associated Press

Russian missiles kill at least 19 in Ukraine’s Odesa region

The Ukrainian president's office said three Kh-22 missiles fired by Russian bombers struck an apartment building and a campsite.
2 days ago
Ketanji Brown Jackson takes the oath for the Supreme Court....
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Jackson sworn in, becomes 1st Black woman on Supreme Court

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, will be sworn as the court's 116th justice Thursday, just as the man she is replacing, Justice Stephen Breyer, retires.
3 days ago
The Supreme Court is pictured. The court just limited the EPA...
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Supreme Court limits EPA in curbing power plant emissions

The Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation's main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
3 days ago
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference on the final day of the NATO summit in Madrid, ...
DARLENE SUPERVILLE and ZEKE MILLER Associated Press

Biden says transatlantic alliance has adapted to new threats

Biden's comments came at a press conference in Madrid at the conclusion of the annual meeting of NATO leaders and after he attended a summit with the Group of Seven advanced democratic economies in the Bavarian Alps.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
World War II forces sweetheart singer Vera Lynn dies at 103