Today, Acorn Stairlifts joins the nation in sending our very best wishes to our national treasure Dame Vera Lynn on the occasion of her 100th birthday.
Celebrated as the “Forces’ Sweetheart” who helped keep Britain’s spirits up through the darkest days of World War II, Dame Vera has been entertaining since the age of seven.
Born in East Ham, Essex, as Vera Margaret Welch, she adopted her maternal grandmother’s maiden name, Lynn, as her stage name when she was just 11. Blessed with a beautiful crystal clear singing voice, she made her first radio appearance in 1935, singing with the Joe Loss Orchestra. At that time, most big dance bands featured a singer and Vera Lynn was soon in demand with the best in the business.
After a short stint with Joe Loss, she sang with the Charlie Kunz big band for a few years before being headhunted by the aristocrat of British dance bands, Bert Ambrose. Her first solo record was released in 1936 on the Crown label, amalgamated two years later with industry giant Decca Records.
But it was during the war years that Vera Lynn came to true national prominence and won the nation’s hearts with a series of stirring ballads. She is still best known for her 1939 recording of the popular song “We’ll Meet Again”, so incredibly poignant as hundreds of thousands of men left their wives, families and sweethearts headed for the front and not knowing if they would ever return.
It was during this time that Dame Vera became known as the “Forces’ Sweetheart” after a poll in the Daily Express asked British servicemen to name their favourite musical performers. In 1941, in the darkest days of the war, Dame Vera was given her own radio programme, “Sincerely Yours”, in which she and her own quartet performed songs mostly requested by servicemen, and broadcasted messages from home to those serving abroad.
The importance of such morale-boosting efforts at that time cannot be overestimated; the RAF had won the Battle of Britain by the skin of its teeth, but the UK’s cities were being carpet bombed on a nightly basis during the blitz, the Nazis were still making gains across Europe, the USA had not yet entered the war, Allied casualties were mounting and the threat of an invasion was never far from people’s minds.
It was also around this time that Dame Vera recorded her other great wartime hit, “The White Cliffs of Dover”, its lyrics promising that even in the darkest of days, better times were waiting just around the corner. As the tide of war finally started to turn, Dame Vera joined ENSA, the Entertainments National Service Association, travelling to entertain Allied troops in Egypt, India and Burma. She was later awarded the British War Medal 1939-45 and the Burma Star for her services with ENSA.
With the war finally over, Dame Vera’s popularity continued and spread to the USA, where her 1952 single “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” became the first by a British artist to top the American charts, staying there for nine weeks. Many American GIs had known her music during the war and took their love for her back to the States. When the first British singles chart was created in 1952, Dame Vera had three singles in the top 12, with “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart”, “The Homing Waltz” and “Forget-Me-Not”.
Recording for the biggest labels of the day, Dame Vera’s popularity continued throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s, recording more than a dozen albums. She was also heavily involved in charity work and in 1969 was awarded the OBE for services to the RAF Association and other charities. Her Damehood followed six years later, in the 1975 Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
As rock ‘n’ roll music and “Beatlemania” began to dominate the 1960s, popular with a new generation which hadn’t lived through the war, Dame Vera was less in the public eye, but she continued to record and was always in demand with her army of loyal fans. She hosted her own variety series on BBC1 in the late ’60s and early ’70s, was a frequent guest on other programmes such as the Morecambe and Wise show, and sang four times at the Royal Variety Performance.
As notable anniversaries of the war years began to happen, Dame Vera was the guest of honour at major national events and in 2009 – the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of war – her recording “We’ll Meet Again: the very best of Vera Lynn”, reached the top of the UK album chart. She was 92 and the oldest living artist to top the album chart.
She might well top that with a new album just released to celebrate her 100th birthday. “Vera Lynn 100” features her original vocals set to new and re-orchestrated versions of her songs, plus duets with other artists including Aled Jones, Alfie Boe, Alexander Armstrong and the RAF Squadronaires.
But today it is the turn of everyone else to serenade her with… “Happy birthday Dame Vera, happy birthday to you!”