Dame Vera Lynn: Forces' Sweetheart dies aged 103

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Dame Vera LynnImage source, Getty Images

Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces' Sweetheart whose songs helped raise morale in World War Two, has died aged 103.

The singer was best known for performing hits such as We'll Meet Again to troops on the front line in countries including India and Egypt.

Her family said they were "deeply saddened to announce the passing of one of Britain's best-loved entertainers".

In a statement, they confirmed she died on Thursday morning surrounded by her close relatives.

Information on a memorial will be announced at a later date.

Six weeks ago, ahead of the 75th anniversary of VE Day and during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Dame Vera said simple acts of bravery and sacrifice still define our nation.

A week later, she became the oldest artist to get a top 40 album in the UK, beating her own record when her greatest hits album re-entered the charts at number 30.

Dame Vera, who had sold more than a million records by the age of 22, was also remembered for singing The White Cliffs Of Dover, There'll Always Be An England, I'll Be Seeing You, Wishing and If Only I Had Wings.

The Queen echoed her famous WW2 anthem during a speech to Britons who were separated from families and friends during the coronavirus lockdown in April, telling the nation: "We will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again."

Buckingham Palace said the monarch will send a private message of condolence to Dame Vera's family.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Dame Vera performing for servicemen in 1940

The late singer's daughter, Virginia Lewis-Jones, said she was proud of the difference her mother made through her charity work.

She said the Dame Vera Lynn Children's Charity, which her mother founded to help young children with cerebral palsy, "always held a very special place in her heart".

Born in London's East Ham in 1917, Dame Vera's singing talent was discovered at a young age and by age 11 she had left school to pursue a full-time career as a dancer and singer.

In 1939, in a poll by the Daily Express, she was voted by servicemen as their favourite entertainer - gaining her the Forces' Sweetheart nickname.

Paying tribute, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the singer's "charm and magical voice entranced and uplifted our country in some of our darkest hours".

"Her voice will live on to lift the hearts of generations to come," he said.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "Her songs still speak to the nation in 2020 just as they did in 1940."

BBC One will air a tribute programme at 19:30 on Thursday, the broadcaster confirmed.

BBC director general Lord Hall said: "What sad news. Not only was she dear to many, she was a symbol of hope during the war and is a part of our national story.

"She demonstrated how music and entertainment can bring joy in the most challenging times. Something that will resonate with many people today."

WW2 veteran Sir Tom Moore, who raised more than £32m for NHS charities during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in April, said: "I really thought Vera Lynn would live longer, she's been speaking so well on TV recently. She had a huge impact on me in Burma and remained important to me throughout my life."

In 1940, at the height of the London Blitz, Vera Lynn would set off to the BBC's underground studios at the Criterion Theatre in central London.

The 15-minute show was called Starlight and was broadcast at 2:30am to soldiers around the world.

At the time, the BBC was being criticised in Parliament for broadcasting slushy, sentimental songs. A number of MPs felt there needed to be more upbeat songs to boost morale.

Her popularity even surprised the BBC, this was after all a little overseas show broadcast in the middle of the night.

Vera Lynn sang the songs that resonated emotionally with people who were separated from their loved ones and she sang them directly to you.

It was warm, intimate, heartfelt and personal, and that's why Vera Lynn became the "Forces' Sweetheart".

Singer Katherine Jenkins, who performed Dame Vera's wartime classics for the VE Day anniversary last month, said: "I simply cannot find the words to explain just how much I adored this wonderful lady.

"Her voice brought comfort to millions in their darkest hours, her songs filled the nation's hearts with hope, and her emotive performances, whether home or abroad, then or now, helped to get us through."

Sir Cliff Richard said Dame Vera was "a great singer" and "a genuine icon".

In a photo tribute on Twitter, Clarence House posted pictures of Dame Vera meeting the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

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The Royal British Legion described her as "an unforgettable British icon" and a "symbol of hope to the Armed Forces community past and present".

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said she was a "hero" who captured the "sense of longing felt by so many during our darkest hour", while Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said she "lifted our nation and its Armed Forces in their moment of maximum peril".

Media caption,

The story behind Vera Lynn's We'll Meet Again