Dame Vera Lynn, \"The Forces Sweetheart\".

Dame Vera Lynn, "The Forces Sweetheart".Getty

In the bleak years of World War II, Vera Lynn’s songs captured the spirit of their times and charged the morale of British servicemen everywhere.

Perhaps surprisingly among the great British heroes mentioned most often by British Heritage readers has been Dame Vera Lynn. If Winston Churchill brought the bulldog tenacity to Britain during the dark years of World War II, Vera Lynn expressed the nation’s heart in song.

A young Big Band singer before the war, in 1940 Vera Lynn began her own radio show, Sincerely Yours. Across the pretelevision, wartime airwaves, Lynn’s broadcast went beyond British shores to the nation’s troops abroad. She sang what came to be the great “standards” of the war and sent messages to soldiers overseas connecting them to home. Lynn toured abroad and performed for troops, visited hospitals and became an icon of British morale.

Songs such as “We’ll Meet Again,” “There’ll Be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover,” “I Left My Heart at the Stagedoor Canteen,” “When the Lights Go On Again,” “There’ll Always Be an England,” “When They Sound the Last ‘All Clear,’” “Land of Hope and Glory” and “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time” spoke of the yearning for peace, the poignancy of wartime romance and the pride in their country.

Vera Lynn’s songs remain timeless recordings of life in Britain during the World War II years, and they remain wonderful music. The last surviving major entertainer of the war years, Lynn was appointed a Dame Companion of the Order of the British Empire in 1975.

Dame Vera sang her last public performance in 1995 at Buckingham Palace, commemorating the 50th anniversary of VE Day. At a Trafalgar Square concert marking Britain’s 2005 VE Day celebrations, she made a surprise appearance. Dame Vera praised the veterans of her day and commended memory of their sacrifice to the generations of today. Then, she joined in singing a bit of “We’ll Meet Again” at age 88.

* Originally published in 2018.