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Dame Vera Lynn releases new album to mark her 100th birthday

PUBLISHED: 09:00 19 March 2017

Dame Vera Lynn: Happy 100th Birthday is on BBC tonight. Picture: BBC/Captive Minds

Dame Vera Lynn: Happy 100th Birthday is on BBC tonight. Picture: BBC/Captive Minds

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Vera Lynn, 100 years old on Monday, was the Forces’ Sweetheart in the Second World War. Here, we celebrate her long life and dazzling career.

Dame Vera Lynn. Picture: PA/PA WireDame Vera Lynn. Picture: PA/PA Wire

Her fresh-faced, girl-next door looks made Vera Lynn one of the darlings of the British forces during the Second World War.

Her greatest wartime hits were undoubtedly The White Cliffs of Dover and We’ll Meet Again although her repertoire encompassed most of the popular songs of the era, including Lili Marlene – a song famously recorded also by Marlene Dietrich. Vera, with her broad, sincere smile, endeared herself to a generation of airmen, seamen and soldiers and that affection did not wane after the war.

Vera Lynn’s singing voice, strong and true, was unmistakable and the sentiments of her songs struck a chord with all the troops parted from the people they loved.

Dame Vera Lynn celebrates her 100th birthday on March 20 and rather than merely sipping a small sherry and opening her card from the Queen, Vera is releasing a new album. Of course she is!

Dame Vera Lynn on a visit to the Imperial War Museum in 2001. Picture: PA/ Johnny GreenDame Vera Lynn on a visit to the Imperial War Museum in 2001. Picture: PA/ Johnny Green

Despite her extraordinary success, Lynn never received formal vocal training, although she does recall her one and only singing lesson with a wry smile. “I went once to extend my range but was told, ‘No, I can’t train that voice. It’s not a natural voice’. So I said, ‘Thank you very much, madam,’ and left.”

She began singing in public, aged seven took her maternal grandmother’s maiden name, Lynn, as her stage name aged 11.

Her first radio broadcast was with the Joe Loss orchestra in 1935 and the following year, her first solo record was released, “Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire” (altogether with that chorus now).

Her recording of We’ll Meet Again was made in 1939 and it was a popular number throughout the war as was her later hit, The White Cliffs of Dover. It was during the so-called Phoney War that the Daily Express asked servicemen to name their favourite musical performers and Vera came out top which is how she came to be dubbed the Forces’ Sweetheart.

The front cover of Dame Vera Lynn's new album, which was released on Friday. Picture: Decca Records/PA WireThe front cover of Dame Vera Lynn's new album, which was released on Friday. Picture: Decca Records/PA Wire

In 1941, Vera Lynn began her own radio programme, Sincerely Yours, sending messages to British troops serving abroad. She and her quartet performed songs most requested by the soldiers.

During the war years she joined entertainment arm of the forces, ENSA (affectionately known as “Every Night Something Awful) and toured Egypt, India and Burma giving outdoor concerts for the troops.

After the war, in 1952, “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” became the first record by a British performer to top the charts in the United States, remaining there for nine weeks. She also appeared regularly for a time on Tallulah Bankhead’s US radio programme The Big Show.

Her popularity continued in the 1950s, peaking with “My Son, My Son”, a number-one hit in 1954 and, in 1962 she recorded Lionel Bart’s song “The Day After Tomorrow” for the 1962 musical Blitz! which is heard on the radio by the characters in the show while they shelter from the bombs.

Forces' sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn. Picture: PAForces' sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn. Picture: PA

Vera Lynn was twice the subject of This Is Your Life, the first in October 1957 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre, and then again for an edition shown on January 1 1979.

In the late Sixties and early Seventies, Vera had her own variety series on the BBC and was a guest on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas show in 1972. In this classic sketch, with Vera barely suppressing her laughter, Eric thanks her for what she did for the troops during the war and, after this valedictory he goes on to say how much her songs were loved, including “Sally” and “Sing as You Go” which, of course were Gracie Fields’ songs.

Also among the countless TV specials were four Royal Variety Performances.

A special programme Happy 100th Birthday Dame Vera Lynn is on BBC2, Saturday, at 9pm. Her new album Vera Lynn 100 is out on Friday, March 17. Bury St Edmunds care home Davers Court is hosting a sing-along for the local community to celebrate singer Vera Lynn’s 100th birthday on March 20 from 3-4pm. Hartismere Place care home in, Eye is also inviting people to join in a sing-a-long for the forces sweetheart’s milestone birthday on Monday, March 20, from 2.30pm.

Vera Lynn in  1956Vera Lynn in 1956

Sources: Wikipedia, PA, BBC

Dame Vera’s honours include:

• A locomotive named after her at North Yorkshire Moors Railway

Vera Lynn in 1941Vera Lynn in 1941

• The Burma Star for entertaining British guerrilla units in Japanese-occupied Burma.

• The British War Medal 1939–1945

• Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1969 New Year Honours “for services to the Royal Air Forces Association and other charities”, and became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1975 Queen’s Birthday Honours for charitable services.

• Officer of the Order of Saint John (OStJ) in 1998

• In 2000, a special “Spirit of the 20th Century” Award.

• Vera Lynn Close is a street in Forest Gate, London.

• An honorary doctorate from the Memorial University of Newfoundland.

• Made an honorary citizen of Nashville, Tennessee.

• Freedom of the City of London in 1978.

• Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to entertainment and charity.

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