Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?

Probably not...(though dannye might).

Vera Lynn was born Vera Margaret Welch in East Ham, London, on March 20, 1917, the daughter of a dressmaker and a plumber. Vera was already singing by the age of 2, and at 7 had already finished her first performance, at the East Ham Working Men's Club, of which her father was president at the time. At 11, she joined a local musical troupe called the Kracker Kabaret Kids, where she took her grandmother's maiden name and assumed the stage-name Vera Lynn (Cockney rhyming slang for "gin"), and only three years later left school and a brief tenure working at a button factory to sing professionally.

The next year, she already had her first jobs, singing with Howard Baker and Billy Cotton, two local band leaders, and became a regular in clubs. From there, she moved on to the Joe Loss Band, which won her a first radio performance. Her big break finally came in 1937, at the age of 20, when she joined the Bert Ambrose Octet, and won a contract with the BBC to do live radio broadcasts and even a television appearance. During this time, she first recorded her most famous song, We'll Meet Again, later made popular as the ending music to the movie Dr. Strangelove. Here, too, she met her future husband, Harry Lewis, a saxophonist, and they were engaged in 1939.

By this time, of course, Britain had become involved in World War II, and Lewis joined the RAF. Vera formed a musical review show, which she called Apple Sauce, famous for performances at the Palladium theatre, which she refused to halt even as the bombs of the Blitz were dropping around them. The popularity of her sometimes sad, sometimes hauntingly optimistic performances such as The White Cliffs of Dover earned her the nomination as the favourite singer of the British Expeditionary Force, beating out Judy Garland and even Bing Crosby, and the nickname "The Force's Sweetheart". Though the BBC thought of her music as "sob stuff" at best, they knew how to latch onto a good thing; the next year, she was signed on to a weekly half-hour, live radio show called "Sincerely Yours - Vera Lynn", which ended each week with her next hit song, called simply Yours.

Her popularity during the war continued to soar; she even held a royal command performance at princess Elizabeth's 16th birthday. Three films followed; We'll Meet Again, in 1942, Rhythm Serenade, in 1943, and One Exciting Night, in 1944. By war's end, however, she was ready to abandon her performing life for a while. Harry Lewis had been released from service in the RAF in 1945, and together, they bought a small home in the country, hoping to live a quiet life together. Their only daughter, Virginia Penelope Ann, was born in 1946.

Continued popularity finally convinced her to return to performing in 1947, signed on to a contract with Decca Records. Her name had since spread to the continent, including Germany, thanks to a recording of Lili Marlene she had done a little after the war. During the 1950's, she travelled across the globe, from Europe to the United States and even as far as South Africa and Australia. Though musical reviews were quickly falling out of favour, she appeared on numerous television shows in the United States and Britain.

In 1968, she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, and even granted an honorary doctorate in Law, in recognition of her importance to British culture and service during World War II. The same year, however, she was diagnosed with emphysema, and, despite a short-lived television series for the BBC in 1969, gradually stopped her performances. Today, she focuses on her numerous charitable organizations.

Vera Lynn is still one of those cultural icons of the 20th century, heard by every one even if they can't recognize the name. Perhaps the most famous reference to her name was in the 1979 album The Wall, by Pink Floyd, which had the song Vera on the second side:

Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?
Remember how she said that we would meet again
Some sunny day
Vera...Vera, what has become of you?
Does anybody else in here feel the way I do?

Another of her songs, "The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot, was used in the opening of the movie version of The Wall.


The kind and venerable Gritchka has pointed out that Vera Lynn's last great public performance was in 1995, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of VE Day, during which she and Cliff Richards sang from the balcony at Buckingham Palace. Many Thanks.

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