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Birthday chorus for Forces Sweetheart Dame Vera
4:31pm Tuesday 20th March 2007 in Search
War veterans, politicians and entertainers sang happy birthday' to Dame Vera Lynn today at a reception marking her 90th birthday.
Dame Vera, the original Forces Sweetheart, was serenaded by Katherine Jenkins with two of the classic songs she used to sing to boost the morale of troops during the Second World War.
Jenkins, the current Forces Sweetheart, sang We'll Meet Again and The White Cliffs Of Dover at the small reception at the Imperial War Museum in London before guests, including Baroness Thatcher, joined in to sing Happy Birthday.
Entertainers June Whitfield, Bill Pertwee, Liz Smith and Frank Thornton, wartime broadcaster David Jacobs, Baroness Boothroyd and ballerina Darcey Bussell were also at the birthday celebrations.
Dame Vera, of Ditchling, near Lewes. was born on March 20, 1917, and her singing career was already flourishing when war broke out in 1939.
At today's lunchtime reception, she mouthed along as Jenkins sang the wartime hits for which she is so well known and appeared tearful during a short film about her life.
President of the Burma Star Association, Lord Slim, paid tribute to Dame Vera for her work during the war, which he said had caused everyone to fall in love with her.
He said: "Vera was the Forces Sweetheart for everybody, whether you were fighting in the desert, in Europe or in Italy. Anywhere you went you would hear a gramophone playing a song from one of two people - Vera or Bing Crosby."
Speaking directly to Vera, he added: "You are young, you are not really 90 - I refuse to believe it. I have always known you as a girl."
Dame Vera earlier said she had no tips for Katherine on being a Forces Sweetheart, but simply hoped she had as much success and enjoyment from the experience as she had during the Second World War and appreciated what it meant to the troops.
She said: "Once you get in their (the troops') good books, they never forget you."
She described her time entertaining the forces as "a bit hazardous" but a great experience and spoke of her fond memories of meeting soldiers and reminding them of England.
Asked about war today, she added: "I am sad that there are these wars, particularly when our boys have to go to help a country that isn't their own.
"I think it is wonderful that they do that. When the are fighting for their own country it is a completely different thing but when they are fighting to help others, then they are truly heroes."
Dame Vera was awarded the title Forces Sweetheart following a poll in the Daily Express and travelled thousands of miles - often at great personal risk - to entertain the troops.
She also had a BBC radio show and famously visited the "forgotten Fourteenth Army" which was fighting the bitter Burma campaign and in 1985 was awarded the Burma Star for her contribution to the war effort there.
Ronald Charrington, 84, from Seaford, East Sussex, saw her perform in Arakan when he was serving with the Ninth Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment.
He said: "It was such a great boost and absolutely marvellous seeing a young girl singing and being so near the action. It was very brave to come so far forward and it boosted our confidence."
John Giddings, 85, of Seventeenth Squadron in the RAF, watched one of her shows while on duty in Burma in 1945 and described her as a "great girl."
He said: "Nobody can touch her - she is the real Forces Sweetheart."