Dame Vera recalls D-Day landings
From her home on the French Riviera the forces' sweetheart (and recent UK chart topper) tells of her war experiences
THE NEWS of the D-Day landings broke over the radio of a private plane transporting Dame Vera Lynn back from Burma where she had been entertaining the troops.
She had been at the London Palladium during the Blitz.
She used to sit against a brick wall near the stage door during the raids, ignoring the shelter. However in 1944 she asked to go to a country where few entertainers went - so they sent her to Burma.
“In my first stop I saw newly-captured Japanese prisoners rounded up, but we were well looked after - me and my pianist,” she said, interviewed at her holiday home in Golfe Juan, Alpes-Maritimes, where she spends a lot of time these days.
Nonetheless conditions were spartan, she said. “A tent with a couple of buckets and you had to get on with it.
“I didn’t have a proper bath for weeks. We went on to India after that.”
Dame Vera said she flew back from Burma in a private plane with her pianist, a general and a few officials on board, and felt utterly exhausted after her punishing tour.
When the pilot heard the news of the D-Day landings on his tinny spitting radio, he called through to his passengers. They stopped in Djerba, Tunisia, to re-fuel and were taken into a tent near the runway. Here they continued listening on a crackling wavelength as the news spilled out.
There was no alcohol, so the young singer, her pianist, the general and the officials charged their glasses with water and drank to “The beginning of the end.”
Today Dame Vera leads a quieter life in the south of France. She and her husband Harry bought their French home more than 30 years ago.
She said she wished she spoke French but “no one went to France from my school in those days. It was Southend for us.” She felt she could have done well in France as “they sang my sort of song - with a story to tell.”
At ninety-two she still has glowing skin and sparkling blue eyes. Fiercely independent, she still cooks for herself and does her own hair.
Surprisingly Dame Vera never came to France during the war to entertain the troops, although she gained her famous title “The Forces’ Sweetheart” from the British Expeditionary Forces in France at the beginning of the war. That was the result of a ballot run by the Daily Express for their favourite singer. She said: “My programmes went all over the continent. They would listen in cellars, haystacks, anywhere secretly.
“They said it gave them hope to know that things were still okay in London.
“I always chose optimistic songs. There were three during the war that represented different things, The White Cliffs of Dover, because they were the first or the last landmark the boys would see as they crossed the channel, Yours which was really the only love song of the war, and of course, We'll Meet Again.”
Dame Vera began her long career at the age of seven in a Dagenham social club while her mother waited in the wings. “It was Mum who pushed me on the stage,” she said. She went on to become a dame in 1974 and finished her career singing outside Buckingham Palace for the 50th anniversary of VE Day in 1995.