Big Interview - Dame Vera Lynn

Date: Tuesday March 26, 2019 at 8:05am

Thank you for agreeing to speak with NCNB today… From what age did you know you wanted to be a singer?

It’s a great pleasure. I wanted to be a singer for as long as I can remember really. I have very early memories of singing around the house growing up with my parents in East Ham. I first performed the song ‘Glad Rag Doll’ when I was seven years old - that was probably the only time I ever performed it. My mother made my dress and a matching one for my doll. I went up to the front and performed the song with the rag doll in my arms and went on to win the competition!

Travelling to conflict zones around the world during World War 2, to give morale boosting performances to the British Troops must have been so rewarding. What was it like and what was your fondest moment?​

I treasure my time in Burma performing for the troops. It was an incredible honour to be able to go there and cheer them up in such a dark time.  I think my main recollection is of everyone coming together to do their bit. There were such wonderful displays of bravery and togetherness. I have a sense of pride in our nation, and especially in those wonderful boys who went to fight for our freedom and made unimaginable sacrifices for us. I was just doing my bit for the war effort, just like everyone else. Mostly, I was delighted that my music could help people during that time, and it was especially wonderful to reunite troops with their families over the radio waves.

   

You must be so proud of everything you have done. What emotions did you go through when travelling to conflict zones?​​

The time I spent in Burma was particularly special. Generally-speaking, performers weren’t going there, some went to the large cities, but no one was going to the jungle; perhaps because there was no electricity or running water! I wanted to be able to cheer the boys up, and the appreciation I received in return is something that I have always cherished. It meant so much to them that I had travelled so far just to say hello and sing some songs but I was truly honoured to remind them of home. 

For those reasons, I am still in contact with a number of the ex-servicemen’s charities, with whom I have been pleased to be associated with over many years.   Speaking of emotions, it’s strange, but I wasn’t in the country for VE Day, as we were returning from Burma. The plane had stopped in Belgium and I heard all the celebrations on the intercom. Even though I was unable to join in with the celebrations, there was an incredible and palpable, collective sense of joy everywhere.

You are known as the ‘Forces Sweetheart’, what influenced your choices to help the military and travel around to perform for them?​

I was just doing my bit for the war effort, just like everyone else. I was delighted that my music could help people during that time, it was a privilege to go and provide some entertainment that would take their minds off the ordeal that they were going through. It was especially wonderful to reunite troops with their families over the radio waves with my wartime radio show ‘Sincerely Yours’. I am truly grateful for all of the wonderful memories I have of visiting our boys on the front line. Those times will live with me forever. It was their moment and I was glad to be able to share it with them.

Once the War had come to an end in 1945, there was still a struggle for the soldiers, families and even widows as they had to try and find work and carry on with their lives. What experiences did you encounter with the Armed Forces Community during this period?

After the war, I was happy to lend my name in support to a number of ex-servicemen’s charities who have always done a wonderful job in caring for the boys who made unimaginable sacrifices for their country – and ultimately, for us.

   

In the 1960’s & 70’s, you were very active in social causes, especially on behalf of war veterans. In recognition of your charitable efforts, Queen Elizabeth II made you a dame of the British Empire in 1975. What was it like becoming a dame?

I have been very fortunate to meet Her Majesty and other members of the royal family several times over the years. I clearly remember one time when the Queen asked me how I managed to balance business with family life. She is always so knowledgeable about the people she meets.

I remember the honour of being made a Dame in 1975 very clearly. I was truly humbled that The Queen knew of my connection with the Forces, and my work with other charities.

You often referred to the British Troops as ‘your boys’. This helped create the backbone for most of your charity work. Tell us more about the charity work you have done for the Armed Forces Community.​

I don’t want to use this opportunity to list the charitable work I have done over the years. Suffice to say, all of those serving our country are deeply deserving of our gratitude.

I am a patron for several charities linked to the Armed Forces, and I am an ambassador for numerous charities including SSAFA, The Gurkhas, The Royal British Legion and the Karen people of Burma, who also fought so bravely alongside our troops. I have also been involved with organisations such as the Veterans’ Association. Nowadays, it is more difficult for me to be actively involved with charity but I continue to lend my name and voice to campaigns which help the Armed Forces as they are so close to my heart.  

How has the Armed Forces changed in your eyes over the years?​

The Armed Forces have changed in many ways over the years – certainly, in the the challenges and environments in which they operate. Despite that, I think one thing never changes: our soldiers are brave and selfless - and we can never thank them enough for all they have done, and continue to do, for us. I have the highest regard for them all. 

What was it like becoming an ambassador for SSAFA?​​

I have always believed in the importance of charity – there are so many worthy causes in the world, and it is our duty to help those less fortunate than we are. SSAFA has done a wonderful job over the years to provide support for our servicemen and their families – and I especially admire the way in which it provides a bridge for veterans to re-enter the world after leaving the Forces.

   

You have done so much throughout your life and done some amazing things. What is one of your best memories?​​

My time spent supporting our brave boys on the front line are obviously a highlight. I have also enjoyed a lot of personal satisfaction from creating awareness about cerebral palsy and associated diseases since the 1950s when it was virtually unknown. I am especially proud of the work done by the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity (www.dvlcc.org.uk), which helps families affected by those disorders.

The Armed Forces has been a huge part of your whole life, on a personal note, we would like to thank you for all your support to the Armed Forces Community. If you could change anything, what would you change?​​

With all that we have today, I think it has become difficult for young people to fully appreciate the hardships we endured during the War. It was hard, but it was also fulfilling.  Everyone was there to help their neighbours and anyone else who needed it. We were fighting shoulder to shoulder both here and abroad.

I suppose the strength of family and community in those days was something we all took for granted. A lot of people nowadays have not had the good fortune to be surrounded by these important elements that make up society. One thing I found during the War is that if you feel lonely, pick yourself up. I used to think of the lovely song ‘When You’re Smiling’ – it always brightens my mood.

Tell us something about Dame Vera Lynn that no one will know?​

I am someone who loves make-up and believe that it’s important to look your best at any age, especially as you get older. It keeps your spirits up if you can look in the mirror and think ‘I don’t look too bad’!  I still use powder and lipstick every day.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, any final words of wisdom you would like to share with the Armed Forces Community?​​

So many brave young boys made sacrifices for our freedom – they left their families for years, put themselves in the most terrible of dangers, and many gave their lives. It is important we never forget what price they paid to keep us safe.  They paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom – the least we can do is honour their memory. ​

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