In early July, an unforgettable event took place at the White Cliffs of Dover, one of Britain’s most iconic landmarks. A portrait of Dame Vera Lynn, the well-loved, World War Two singer, and the lyrics to her most famous song, ‘We’ll Meet Again’, were projected onto the 350 ft. chalk cliff face to celebrate her life and mark the sad occasion of her funeral.
Another popular song by Dame Vera shares its name with the landmark, which has long symbolised freedom. During WWII, the singer brought hope to millions of British troops and ordinary citizens alike when she sang movingly about bluebirds flying over the cliffs ‘when the world is free’.
‘I feel very honoured to have my mother’s image on the White Cliffs of Dover, which is so closely associated with her, and I know that she would definitely feel the same,’ emphasised Dame Vera’s daughter, Virginia Lewis-Jones.
Since the singer passed away peacefully on 18 June aged 103, there have been calls from members of the public to create a permanent memorial by erecting a statue of Dame Vera on the clifftop. Lord Richard Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, supports the idea. The White Cliffs of Dover would be a ‘fantastically appropriate’ setting, in Lord Dannatt’s words, for a memorial of this kind.
Morale-Boosting Music by the Forces’ Sweetheart
Dame Vera Lynn occupies an incredibly important place in British history and culture. Decades after it was first heard, her music continues to lift people’s spirits during periods of uncertainty. The Queen herself alluded to ‘We’ll Meet Again’ when addressing the nation during lockdown on the 75th anniversary of VE Day. ‘We will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again,’ the monarch remarked reassuringly.
Born in London’s East End, Dame Vera was admired for her natural talent (she didn’t take singing lessons) and strong work ethic. Stardom beckoned from an early age: by the time she was eleven, she was pursuing a singing career. By 22, she’d sold over a million records.
During WWII, the singer became a British icon. Dame Vera starred in BBC radio programmes heard at home and abroad, such as the comforting Sincerely Yours. She later explained that she’d wanted listeners to feel as if they were having ‘an intimate conversation’ with her. Her charm and warmth won her legions of fans, while her popularity with the Armed Forces meant she was dubbed the Forces’ Sweetheart.
Dame Vera’s strong, steady yet delightful singing voice was like a soothing balm. She travelled to Egypt, India and elsewhere to entertain the troops at concerts.
Performing for the Royal Family during Peacetime
Dame Vera Lynn continued to work hard and win acclaim during peacetime. In 1952, she became the first British singer to top the US charts. She toured widely and appeared regularly on radio and TV. She sang for the Royal Family, most notably to celebrate the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday at the 1990 Royal Variety Performance.
Even when Dame Vera became a centenarian, her star power remained undimmed. She was Britain’s best-selling female singer in 2017. The following year, she received the Classic Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. This year, a special version of ‘We’ll Meet Again’, featuring a duet between Dame Vera and Katherine Jenkins, a modern-day Forces’ Sweetheart, was released to raise money for the NHS.
Granted the Title Dame for Services to Charity
Did you know that Dame Vera Lynn had another passion besides music? She was granted her damehood in 1975 for extensive charity work. (You can see a photo of Dame Vera following her investiture ceremony in Sky News’ pictorial tribute.)
The singer worked tirelessly to support a diverse range of people, including former members of the Armed Forces, breast cancer patients and children with disabilities. According to the BBC, she was involved with ‘hundreds of organisations’.
Dame Vera Lynn’s Children’s Charity was particularly close to her heart. She founded the organisation in 2001 to help youngsters with cerebral palsy realise their potential.
Dame Vera Lynn is no longer with us, but her influence continues to be felt.
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