Tributes paid to British war-time icon Vera Lynn after death aged 103

VIDEO: REUTERS
Dame Vera Lynn in a file photo taken on Oct 22, 2009.
Dame Vera Lynn in a file photo taken on Oct 22, 2009.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday (June 18) led an outpouring of tributes to the World War II “forces’ sweetheart” Vera Lynn, whose resonant songs helped keep up national morale, after her death aged 103.

She travelled thousands of miles to the frontlines, from Egypt to India and Myanmar, to entertain British troops with a string of classics such as We’ll Meet Again and The White Cliffs Of Dover.

A performer from the age of seven, Lynn also starred in films, enjoyed a number of post-war hits and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1976.

Her place in Britain’s social history can not be overstated. She was the subject of a Pink Floyd tribute Vera, and sang over the end credits of the 1964 comedy war film Dr Strangelove.

When she turned 100, her portrait was projected onto the famed White Cliffs of Dover.

Lynn released a new album – becoming the first centenarian to do so – and Queen Elizabeth II referenced her in a speech urging Britons to summon up the war-time spirit during the coronavirus lockdown.

“Dame Vera Lynn’s charm and magical voice entranced and uplifted our country in some of our darkest hours,” Johnson said on Twitter.

“Her voice will live on to lift the hearts of generations to come.”

The Royal British Legion, a charity providing support to veterans, called Lynn “an unforgettable British icon” and “symbol of hope to the Armed Forces community past and present”.

London’s Evening Standard newspaper announced her death on the front page. “Farewell To Our Wartime Sweetheart”, it said.

The BBC planned a special tribute on Thursday evening.

Her family called Lynn, who lived in East Sussex, England, “one of Britain’s best-loved entertainers”, saying she died on Thursday morning surrounded by her close relatives.

‘HUGE IMPACT’

Born in London’s East End in 1917, Lynn became a household name during the war years.

She hosted a BBC radio programme, Sincerely Yours, appeared in a forces stage revue and made three war-time films as well as touring.

Post-war highlights included being the first British performer to have a US number one with Auf Wiedersehen, Sweetheart, her most successful record, in 1952.

As Lynn’s career waned she remained a beloved figure at celebrations to mark the anniversaries of the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings in France, as well as of VE Day commemorating the end of war in Europe on May 8, 1945.

Her death comes just weeks after Britons joined in a national rendition of  We’ll Meet Again from their doorsteps as a morale boost during the coronavirus lockdown.

In early April, after stay-at-home measures were imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the queen promised Britons “we’ll meet again” once restrictions were lifted.

World War II veteran Captain Tom Moore, 100, who has shot to fame during the crisis after raising huge sums for health service charities by doing laps of his garden, called the news of her death “a real shame”.

“She had a huge impact on me in Burma (Myanmar) and remained important to me throughout my life,” he said, adding that his thoughts were with her family.

Mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins, who released a duet with Lynn of her most famous song, said her voice “brought comfort to millions in their darkest hours”.

“It was she who chose the sentiments of her songs – she knew instinctively what people needed to hear, how to rally the morale and her spirit and strength created the soundtrack of a generation,” she said in a statement.

“There will never be another Dame Vera Lynn,” she added.

Lynn made several public statements during the pandemic, urging Britons in March to “rediscover that same spirit that saw us through the war”.

“Music is so good for the soul... keep smiling and keep singing,” stated a message on her Twitter account, alongside the release of a new We’ll Meet Again video to coincide with her 103rd birthday.