LONDON (AP) – Dame Vera Lynn, the endearingly popular â€œForcesâ€™ Sweetheartâ€ who serenaded British troops abroad during World War II, has died at 103.
During the war and long after, Lynn got crowds singing, smiling and crying with sentimental favorites such as â€œWeâ€™ll Meet Again,â€ and â€œThe White Cliffs of Dover.â€
â€œThe family are deeply saddened to announce the passing of one of Britainâ€™s best-loved entertainers at the age of 103,” her family said in a statement. â€œDame Vera Lynn, who lived in Ditchling, East Sussex, passed away earlier today, 18 June 2020, surrounded by her close family.â€
Lynn possessed a down-to-earth appeal, reminding servicemen of the ones they left behind.
â€œI was somebody that they could associate with,â€ she once told The Associated Press. â€œI was an ordinary girl.â€
Tributes poured in from political leaders, entertainers and thousands of fans.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said her â€œcharm 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.”
Lynn hosted a wildly popular BBC radio show during the war called â€œSincerely Yoursâ€ in which she sent messages to British troops abroad and performed the songs they requested. The half-hour program came on during the highly coveted slot following the Sunday night news.
â€œWinston Churchill was my opening act,â€ she once said.
Lynn had thought the war would doom her chance of success.
â€œWhen war first started, when it was declared, I thought, â€˜Well there goes my career.â€™ You know, I shall finish up in a factory or the army or somewhere,â€ she recalled. â€œYou imagined all the theaters closing down, which didnâ€™t happen except when the sirens sounded. And everybody, if they wanted to, they could stay in the theater and the show would go on.â€
In September 2009, long after her retirement, Lynn topped the British album chart with a best hits collection titled â€œWeâ€™ll Meet Again – The Very Best of Vera Lynn.â€ It reached No. 1, despite competition from the release of remastered Beatlesâ€™ albums.
Amid this year’s coronavirus outbreak, Lynn and opera singer Katherine Jenkins released a charity version of â€œWe’ll Meet Again.â€
In a reflection of her enduring appeal, Queen Elizabeth II invoked the words of Lynn’s signature song as she addressed a nation in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. The monarch played on the song’s theme, promising that loved ones would be reunited in the end after being separated by the virus.
â€œWe should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return,â€ the queen said. â€œWe will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.â€
Lynn earned her nickname, â€œThe Forcesâ€™ Sweetheart,â€ after coming top in a 1939 Daily Express poll that asked servicemen to name their favorite musical artists. Years later, she reflected on time spent with soldiers abroad.
â€œWhat they needed was a contact from home,â€ she said. â€œI entertained audiences from 2,000 to 6,000. And the boys would just come out of the jungle and sit there for hours waiting until we arrived and then slip back in once weâ€™d left.â€
A plumberâ€™s daughter, Vera Margaret Welch was born on March 20, 1917, in Londonâ€™s blue-collar East Ham neighborhood.
She took her stage name from her grandmotherâ€™s maiden name. She started singing in social clubs at age 7 and dropped out of school by 11 when she started touring Britain with a traveling variety show. By 17 she was a band singer, and at 21 – when the war started – she was a known performer.
She married band musician Harry Lewis in 1941, and he went on to manage her career. Lynn appeared in a handful of films: â€œWeâ€™ll Meet Againâ€ (1942), playing a young dancer who discovers her singing voice; â€œRhythm Serenadeâ€ (1943), in which she plays a woman who joins the Womenâ€™s Royal Navy and organizes a nursery in a munitions factory; and â€œOne Exciting Nightâ€ (1944), a comedy about a singer who is mistakenly caught up in a kidnapping.
While Lynn is best remembered for her work during the war, she had great success during the post-war years. Her â€œAuf Wiedersehen Sweetheartâ€ in 1952 became the first record by an English artist to top the American Billboard charts, staying there for nine weeks. Lynnâ€™s career flourished in the 1950s, peaking with â€œMy Son, My Son,â€™â€™ a No. 1 hit in 1954.
After staying away from the business for years, she had a 1970s comeback single â€œDonâ€™t You Remember Whenâ€ and even covered Abbaâ€™s â€œThank you for the Music,â€ but fans still really wanted to hear the wartime classics. Lynn was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1975.
In the years that followed she continued to support veteransâ€™ causes and raise money for research on cancer and cystic fibrosis. She set up her own charity for children with cerebral palsy, and was a forceful advocate for her causes. She played an important part in a 1989 campaign to win a better pension deal for World War II widows, and until 2010 was actively involved in various veterans charities.
On occasion, Lynn delighted fans by taking up the microphone again. She sang outside Buckingham Palace in 1995 in a ceremony marking the golden jubilee of VE Day. In recent years, Lynn lived a quiet village life in Ditchling, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of London.
She did make fleeting mini-appearances, particularly when veterans were involved. During ceremonies last year to mark the D-Day landings, a pre-recorded wish was played to a ballroom full of veterans on a ship sailing to France to mark the event. Tears flowed as Lynn spoke. When she was done, the thunderous applause rattled the windows.
â€œWe are incredibly sad to hear of the passing of Dame Vera Lynn, an unforgettable British icon, symbol of hope to the Armed Forces community past and present,” the Royal British Legion said as it paid tribute to her support for the organization. â€œOur thoughts are with her loved ones.â€