FORCES’ Sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn turns 100 today.
The singer will celebrate the milestone with a tea party at her home in Ditchling with family and friends.
She has received hundreds of cards from all over the world including many from Argus readers.
She said: “I can’t believe everyone is going to so much trouble to wish me a happy birthday – I feel incredibly humbled by it all.”
Born in 1917 in East Ham, London, she first took to the stage aged seven and in the 1930s made her name in the theatres of the West End.
But she achieved national treasure status during the Second World War when she become known as the Forces’ Sweetheart.
Servicemen around the world tuned in to her Sincerely Yours radio show in which she sent out dedications and sang her hits.
She also toured Egypt, India and Burma with the Entertainments National Service Association and performed for the troops.
She had been told it was too dangerous but persuaded the authorities to let her go.
She said: “It was hot, humid and the conditions were basic to say the least. But is was worth it to see the reaction of the boys out there.
“They had been through a terrible time and many of their friends had died.
“A comment from one young soldier really brought home the importance of what I was doing. As I was leaving, he said to me, ‘Now you are here, home doesn’t seem so far away’. That meant a lot and I have never forgotten it.”
She will celebrate today with a tea party at her home. Pupils at Brampton Primary School in East Ham, where she went as a child, will go on Skype to sing Happy Birthday and perform a medley of her songs.
Addressing readers of The Argus who have sent their birthday wishes, she said: “I would like to thank all of you for the kind words and birthday messages.
“I am so humbled by the response from you all and I feel incredibly blessed to have reached this milestone.”
Dame Vera moved to Sussex in the early 1960s and made her home in Ditchling. She said: “I have always loved Sussex and Ditchling is a lovely village that I have lived in now for more than five decades. I love the area because of the scenery but also because there is a wonderful sense of community here.”
Today, at 10.30am, there will be a special event at the White Cliffs of Dover. In a nod to her wartime hit, a special bluebird structure has been built and there will be a flypast by two Spitfires.
A special concert was held at the London Palladium on Saturday with guests including comedian Alexander Armstrong, the group Blake and singer Hayley Westenra.
Proceeds from the event went to her charity, The Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity.
She has also released an album to mark the milestone, Vera Lynn 100, which is thought to be the first ever released by a centenarian.
Discussing the secrets to a long and happy life, she said: “I think it is important to look after yourself, both mentally and physically. I have always tried to be active, eat well, and find time to relax in the garden and by painting.”
- Send your birthday wishes to Dame Vera by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
FROM THE EAST END TO THE FAR EAST
DAME Vera was born Vera Margaret Welch in East Ham in 1917.
She took to singing from an early age and gave her first public performance aged seven.
In her teens she joined the Joe Loss Orchestra and made her first radio appearance in 1935.
Her stock began to rise and she featured on several dance bands’ records.
By the outbreak of the Second World War she was performing across the West End.
Even during the Blitz, in 1940, she drove across the capital in her Austin 10 to sing for war-weary Londoners.
She said: “The journey took me through what was known as Bomb Alley – a part of the East End targeted by the Germans.
“I had a rule – if I had gone through Aldgate by the time the sirens went then I would continue home with my tin helmet on. If I hadn’t reached Aldgate I would turn back and return to the theatre and spend the night there.”
In 1941 she started the BBC radio show Sincerely Yours in which she would sing and respond to requests. It became a huge hit among servicemen stationed around the world and she was soon dubbed the Forces’ Sweetheart.
She said: “I realised how much these men must have been missing home and I made sure I replied to each and every one. Just to hear from someone they could relate to meant so much to them.”
She wanted to do more, especially for those thousands of miles from home. She asked to go to Burma but the authorities refused, saying it was too dangerous. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer and persisted until they reluctantly gave in.
In 1944 she packed her bags and set off with her pianist, first to Egypt, then India and finally Burma.
The heat was stifling and the conditions unlike anything she had ever experienced. There was also the very real threat the Japanese would overrun their position.
She said: “It was was worth it to see the reaction of the boys out there. Some of them had not seen a woman for four or five years. Their spirits were lifted and I truly knew then the importance of what I was doing.”
By the end of the war she was a household name and in the 1950s took her music to America. Her 1952 hit Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart became the first record by a British performer to top the charts there.
She received multiple awards over the years including various city freedoms, honorary degrees and wartime medals.
But her proudest moment came in 1975 when was made a Dame in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
In the 1960s and ’70s she met Hollywood stars, royalty and world leaders as she toured the world, selling millions of records in the process.
But she never lost the bond she formed with the millions of servicemen from the war. Up until recently she has attended reunions and performed at charity concerts and she still receives letters from veterans.
In her later years she turned her attention to charity work. She launched her own trust in 2001 and she is the patron of many others.
She has 14 gold discs, has written three autobiographies, been the subject of two This is Your Life episodes and is now the only centenarian to have released an album.
FRIENDS AND WELL-WISHERS SEND CARDS FROM ACROSS THE GLOBE
DAME Vera’s Ditchling home has been flooded with birthday cards which have come from all four corners of the globe.
Friends and family have been called in to help open them. But as soon as they catch up, another crate arrives.
Most are addressed to Dame Vera Lynn but others are simply labelled to “Wartime singer” or “Forces Sweetheart”.
Friend Susan Fleet, who has been helping open the cards, said: “We have lost count of how many we have had.
“We’ve had cards from New Zealand, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria and numerous other countries.
“Of course, many have come from all over the UK as well. One lady, aged 68, wrote a letter after having corresponded with Dame Vera when she was just eight years old. Many others met Dame Vera years ago and the memory has stuck with them.”
When asked what’s on her birthday list, Dame Vera said: “I don’t need anything at all. I just ask that the wonderful people of Britain are as generous as possible towards my charity which does much-needed work for children under five with cerebral palsy, and their families.”
Dame Vera formed cerebral palsy charity SOS (The Stars Organisation for Spastics) in 1953 and The Vera Lynn Charity Breast Cancer Research Trust in 1976. In 2001 she set up The Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children. She is also patron of the charity Forces Literary Organisation Worldwide.