On this day in history : 20th March 1917 – The birth, in East Ham, London, of singer, songwriter and actress Dame Vera Lynn – known as ‘the Forces’ Sweetheart’….

Dame Vera Lynn in 1962 – Eric Koch / Anefo – National Archief Netherlands CC BY-SA 3.0

Born Vera Margaret Welch, into a working class family, she began to sing in working mens’ clubs at the age of 7…. When she was 11 she took her grandmother’s maiden name of ‘Lynn’ as her stage name and joined a singing troupe – ‘Madame Harris’s Kracker Kabaret Kids’….

Vera left school at the age of 14 and was spotted by a booking agent, who found her work at events and parties…. She began to perform on the radio in 1935 with Joe Loss and his orchestra….and in 1936 her first solo recording ‘Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire’ was released…. Her first hits came in 1937 with ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ and ‘The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot’….

But Vera is probably best known for her 1939 trademark song ‘Well Meet Again’, written by the young composers Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, which became popular in World War 2 – as did ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’….

In 1941 Vera was given her own radio show, ‘Sincerely Yours’, which sent messages to the troops serving overseas….she and her band would perform requests…. It was also in 1941 that Vera married Harry Lewis, a clarinetist and saxophonist…. They had one child, a daughter, Virginia Penelope Anne Lewis….

Singing in a munitions factory 1941 – Ministry of Information, Photo Division photographer – Public domain

Vera appeared in the films ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘Rhythm Serenade’ in 1943…. During the War she also toured Egypt, India and Burma, giving concerts as a member of the Entertainments National Service Association….

After the War the family moved to Finchley, North London…. It was the early 1960s that they relocated to Ditchling in East Sussex – and is where Vera lived for the rest of her life…. Her husband died in 1998….

Dame Vera Lynn in 1973 – Allan Warren – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

Her popularity continued after the War and then in 1952 her record ‘Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart’ became the first release by a British artist to top the US charts – where it stayed for nine weeks….

During the late 1960s and early 70s Vera hosted her own variety shows on BBC1 – she also appeared as a guest on other shows, such as Morcambe & Wise …. She appeared at the Royal Variety Performance four times…. In 1969 Vera was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE)…. Then in 1975 she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE)…. In 2017 Dame Vera became the oldest living artist to have an album in the top 10 of the British charts – with ‘100’ to celebrate her 100th birthday….

Dame Vera Lynn 2009 – at the War and Peace Show…. Photo credit : Nicki via Flickr

She wrote three memoirs – ‘Vocal Refrain’, 1975, ‘We’ll Meet Again’, 1989 and ‘Some Sunny Day’, 2009….

Dame Vera Lynn died on the 18th of June 2020, aged 103, at her home in Ditchling…. She was given a military funeral, with a procession from her home to Woodvale Crematorium, Brighton on the 10th of July 2020…. The route was lined by those wishing to pay their respects – members of the British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Royal British Legion accompanied her cortège….and she was honoured with a Battle of Britain Spitfire flypast….

National Archief Netherlands

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