Dame Vera Lynn, DBE (born Vera Margaret Welch on 20 March 1917), widely known as "The Forces' Sweetheart" is an English singer, songwriter and actress whose musical recordings and performances were enormously popular during the Second World War. During the war she toured Egypt, India and Burma, giving outdoor concerts for the troops. The songs most associated with her are "We'll Meet Again", "The White Cliffs of Dover", "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and "There'll Always Be an England".
She remained popular after the war, appearing on radio and television in the UK and the United States and recording such hits as "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart" and her UK Number one single "My Son, My Son".
In 2009 she became the oldest living artist to make it to No. 1 on the British album chart, at the age of 92. She has devoted much time and energy to charity work connected with ex-servicemen, disabled children and breast cancer. She is still held in great affection by veterans of the Second World War and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the twentieth century.
Vera Lynn was born Vera Margaret Welch on 20 March 1917 in East Ham, in what was then the county of Essex, now East London. When she began performing publicly at the age of seven, she adopted her grandmother's maiden name (Lynn) as her stage name. Her first radio broadcast, with the Joe Loss Orchestra, was in 1935. At this point she was being featured on records released by dance bands including those of Loss and of Charlie Kunz. In 1936 her first solo record was released on the Crown label, "Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire". This label was absorbed by Decca Records in 1938. After a short stint with Loss she stayed with Kunz for a few years during which she recorded several standard musical pieces. In 1937, she moved to the aristocrat of British dance bands, Bert Ambrose.
She is best known for her 1939 recording of the popular song "We'll Meet Again", written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles; the nostalgic lyrics ("We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but I know we'll meet again some sunny day") were very popular during the war and made the song one of its emblematic hits. During the Phoney War, the Daily Express asked British servicemen to name their favourite musical performers: Vera Lynn came out on top and as a result became known as 'the Forces' Sweetheart'.
In 1941, during the darkest days of the Second World War, Lynn began her own radio programme, Sincerely Yours, sending messages to British troops serving abroad. She and her quartet performed songs most requested by the soldiers. Lynn also visited hospitals to interview new mothers and send personal messages to their husbands overseas. Her other great wartime hit was "The White Cliffs of Dover", words by Nat Burton, music by Walter Kent. In 1943 she appeared in the film We'll Meet Again. Contrary to later reports, she neither sang nor recorded "Rose of England" during this time and it was only in 1966 when her producer, David Gooch, selected it for her album More Hits of the Blitz that she became familiar with it. The album itself was a follow-up to Hits of the Blitz produced by Norman Newell.
During the war years she joined ENSA and toured Egypt, India and Burma, giving outdoor concerts for the troops. In March 1944 she went to Shamsheernugger airfield to entertain the troops before the Battle of Kohima. Her host and lifelong friend Captain Bernard Holden recalled 'her courage and her contribution to morale'. In 1985 it was announced that she would receive the Burma Star for entertaining British guerrilla units in Japanese-occupied Burma. She is one of the last surviving major entertainers of the war years.
Lynn's "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart" became the first record by a British performer to top the charts in the United States, remaining there for nine weeks. She also appeared regularly for a time on Tallulah Bankhead's U.S. radio programme, The Big Show. "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart", along with "The Homing Waltz" and "Forget-Me-Not", gave Lynn a remarkable three entries on the first UK Singles Chart, a top 12 (which actually contained 15 songs owing to tied positions).
Her popularity continued in the 1950s, peaking with "My Son, My Son", a number-one hit in 1954 which she co-wrote with Gordon Melville Rees. In 1960 she left Decca Records after nearly 25 years, and joined EMI. She recorded for EMI's Columbia, MGM and HMV labels. In 1967, she recorded "It Hurts To Say Goodbye", a song which hit the top 10 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart."
Vera Lynn was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in October 1957 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre, and in December 1978, for an episode which was broadcast on 1 January 1979, when Andrews surprised her at the Cafe Royal, London.
She hosted her own variety series on BBC1 in the late 1960s and early 1970s and was a frequent guest on other variety shows, notably The 1972 Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show. In 1972 she was a key performer in the BBC anniversary programme Fifty Years Of Music. In 1976 she hosted the BBC's A Jubilee Of Music, celebrating the pop music hits of the period 1952-1976 to commemorate the start of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee year. For ITV she presented a 1977 TV special to launch her album Vera Lynn in Nashville, which included pop songs of the 1960s and country songs.
The Royal Variety Performance included appearances by Vera Lynn on four occasions: 1960, 1975, 1986 and 1990. Lynn was also interviewed about her role in entertaining the troops in the India Burma Theatre, for The World at War series in 1974.
Lynn is also notable for being the only artist to have a chart span on the British single and album charts reaching from the chart's inception to the 21st century -- in 1952 having three singles in the first ever singles chart, complied by New Musical Express, and most recently having a #1 album with We'll Meet Again -- The Very Best Of Vera Lynn (see below).
Lynn was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1969 New Year Honours "for services to the Royal Air Forces Association and other charities", and promoted to Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1975 Queen's Birthday Honours "for charitable services". She was made an Officer of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (OStJ) in 1998 and, in 2000, Dame Vera received a special "Spirit of the 20th Century" Award. A street named in her honour, Vera Lynn Close, is situated in Forest Gate, London.
A preserved example of the WD Austerity 2-10-0 class of steam locomotives at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway is named "Dame Vera Lynn".
In 1953 Lynn formed the cerebral palsy charity SOS (The Stars Organisation for Spastics) and became its chairperson.
The Vera Lynn Charity Breast Cancer Research Trust was founded in 1976, with Lynn its chairperson and later its president.
In 2002 Lynn became president of the cerebral palsy charity The Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy, and hosted a celebrity concert on its behalf at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.
On 19 August 2008 Lynn became the Patron of the Forces Literary Organisation Worldwide for ALL, a charitable not-for-profit organisation which helps those affected by war.
On 16 November 2010 Dame Vera Lynn became Patron of The Dover War Memorial Project, a voluntary not-for-profit group remembering the Fallen from Dover, Kent, England.
On the 26th of November 2010 she became Patron of the UK registered charity Projects to Support Refugees from Burma / Help 4 Forgotten Allies. Help 4 Forgotten Allies provides annual grants to ex-servicemen, recruited by the British from the Karen and Karenni ethnic minorities. Living in Burma, they fought fiercely against the Japanese alongside the British, but were later persecuted for their British affiliations and struggle for independence. Many had to flee Burma and have lived in camps in great poverty on the Thai-Burma border for decades, deprived of freedom and basic necessities in their old age. Dame Vera feels the British have a moral duty to support those who fought alongside the British soldiers against the Japanese. 'Anybody who helped us during that war, if they served with us, they should be entitled to a pension.'
In 2013, she joined a PETA campaign against pigeon racing, stating that the sport was "utterly cruel."
Lynn sang outside Buckingham Palace in 1995 in a ceremony that marked the golden jubilee of VE Day. This was her last known public performance.
The United Kingdom's VE Day Diamond Jubilee ceremonies in 2005 included a concert in Trafalgar Square, London, in which Lynn made an unannounced appearance. She made a speech praising the veterans and calling upon the younger generation always to remember their sacrifice and joined in with a few bars of "We'll Meet Again". Following that year's Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance, Dame Vera encouraged the Welsh mezzo-soprano singer Katherine Jenkins to assume the mantle of "Forces' Sweetheart".
In her speech Lynn said, "These boys gave their lives and some came home badly injured, and for some families life would never be the same. We should always remember, we should never forget, and we should teach the children to remember."
In September 2008 Lynn helped launch a new social history recording website, "The Times of My Life", at the Cabinet War Rooms in London.
On 3 September 2009 Andrew Castle hosted Lynn on GMTV to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Britain's declaring war on Germany. At the end of the interview she sang a verse from "We'll Meet Again," at Castle's request.
Her autobiography Some Sunny Day was published in August 2009, when Lynn was 92. She had written two previous memoirs: Vocal Refrain (1975) and We'll Meet Again (1989).
In February 2009, it was reported that Lynn was suing the British National Party (BNP) for using "the White Cliffs of Dover" on an anti-immigration album without her permission. Her lawyer claimed the album seemed to link Lynn, who does not align with any political party, to the party's views by association.
In September 2009 Lynn became the oldest living artist to make it into No. 1 in the British album chart, at the age of 92, passing such veterans of music as American jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong and French singer Charles Aznavour. Her collection We'll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn entered the chart at number 20 on 30 August, and then climbed to number 2 the following week, before reaching the top position, outselling both the Arctic Monkeys and the Beatles. In its third week the album went gold with sales of over 100,000.
We'll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera LynnCompilation Album,
Released: 25 August 2009,
Label: Decca Records,
Formats: CD, digital download,
New Zealand: Gold,
In 1941 Lynn married Harry Lewis, a clarinetist and saxophonist, whom she had met two years earlier. They had one child, Virginia Penelope Anne Lewis. Harry Lewis died in 1999.
Lynn has lived in Ditchling in Sussex since the early 1960s.
Vera Lynn made her solo recording debut with the song "Up The Wooden Hill To Bedfordshire" in February 1936. The 9" 78rpm single was issued on the Crown Records label, which went on to release a total of 8 singles recorded by Vera Lynn and Charles Smart on organ. Early recordings include "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "Red Sails in the Sunset".
In 1938 the Decca label took over control of the British Crown label and the UK based Rex label, they had also issued early singles from Lynn in 1937, including "Harbour Lights". In late September 1939 Vera Lynn first recorded a song that continues to be associated with her: We'll Meet Again was originally recorded with Arthur Young on the Novachord.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s the Decca label issued all of Vera Lynn's records, including several recorded with Mantovani and His Orchestra in 1942 and with Robert Farnon, from the late 1940s. Firstly they were only available as 78rpm singles, which only feature two songs an A and a B-side. In the mid-1950s Decca issued several EP singles, which featured between two and four recordings per side, such as Vera Lynn's Party Sing Song from 1954 and singles were issued on two formats the known 78prm 10" and the recently introduced 45rpm 7" single. In the late 1950s Lynn recorded four albums at Decca, the first; Vera Lynn Concert remains her only live recording ever to be issued on vinyl.
In 1960, after more than 20 years at Decca Records, Lynn signed to the US based MGM Records, in the UK her recordings were distributed by the His Masters Voice label, later EMI Records, several albums and stand alone singles were recorded with Geoff Love & His Orchestra, Norman Newell also took over as Lynn's producer in this period and remained with her until her 1976 Christmas with Vera Lynn. Recording at EMI Records up until 1977, Lynn released thirteen albums with material as diverse as traditional Hymns, pop and country songs, as well as re-recording many of her known songs from the 1940s for the albums Hits of the Blitz (1966), More Hits of the Blitz and Vera Lynn Remembers - The World at War (1974). In the 1980s two albums of contemporary pop songs were recorded at the Pye Records label, both included covers of songs previously recorded by such artists as Abba and Barry Manilow.
In 1982 a stand alone single "I Love This Land" (Falklands War song) was issued and in 1984 Horatio Nelson Records issued Vera Lynn's last recordings made before her retirement. The album Vera Lynn Remembers, produced by Harry Lewis, Lynn's husband, features 17 re-recordings of songs known and associated with Vera Lynn over her 50 year recording career.
On 20 March 2014, her 97th birthday, Lynn announced that she was releasing a new album Vera Lynn: National Treasure - The Ultimate Collection. The album will be released on 2 June, to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which occurs four days later.