Dame Vera, 103, who reads The Connexion and has a Riviera holiday home in Golfe-Juan, said she was “so surprised” to hear the Queen finish her recent address about Covid-19 confinement with “we will meet again” – a reference to one of her most loved wartime songs.
“But of course the lyrics of the song are extremely positive and Her Majesty made such a point of being so,” she said.
“I think the same qualities we had during the war are coming through now; everyone working together and helping each other, no matter where you come from.
“We chat and email our lovely French friends regularly to make sure they are keeping well.”
Dame Vera said she is very aware that the lockdown has made many Britons abroad, including those who have retired to remote rural areas of France, unable to see their loved ones for many weeks and months.
“If you are parted from your family as so many of us were during the war, try to keep smiling and think of the time you will be together again. Help the local community if you are able to do so and nurture friendships in France so that, when this is over, your life will be enriched.
“Stay in touch with family and friends in the UK by Skype, email or phone. Remember that we, here in the UK, also miss you very, very much.”
On the night of Friday May 8 she is taking part in a special BBC One (and BBC iPlayer) programme to mark the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, called The People’s Celebration.
It will start at 20:00 UK time (21:00 in France) and at 21:00 UK time there will be another brief message from the Queen, at the exact time her father spoke to the nation 75 years ago.
Then, as a finale, stars including Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins and English soul singer Beverly Knight will sing We’ll Meet Again and people all over the UK are expected to join in.
“Wherever you are in France, I hope you can tune in and sing with all of us,” Dame Vera said. “I will be sitting by the window in our house in Ditchling, Sussex, singing away.
“We will also be toasting VE Day together not only for the celebration, but also to honour all the gallant Armed Forces members who gave us our freedom, and those who worked in the munitions factories and hospitals.
“Now, we have a new danger and we must thank not only the British NHS, but our wonderful medical teams in France and all over the world who are fighting this virus. “
Asked if she had been uplifted by the way her wartime songs have touched people’s hearts during the current crisis, she said: “Yes, of course, but this is not about me, it is about everyone fighting this unseen enemy.”
She added: “To lift your spirits, enjoy music every single day, as I do. Don’t worry if your voice wobbles a bit on Friday… just join in. We are thinking of you all.”
Among those in France who will be singing along with Dame Vera are residents in Saint-Sever-Calvados, in Normandy.
In September, over 200 local people attended a tribute concert of her songs in its church, backed by Dame Vera.
“The show was a huge success,” said Alan Davidge, 72, a retired college manager and local historian who, with his wife Carol, has lived near the commune for six years.
“People were given little booklets containing the words of the songs and everyone joined in. One favourite here is Somewhere in France with You with its poignant lyrics about a girl in the UK missing her sweetheart while he is away fighting in France.
“Our mayor, Jean-Pierre Nourry, awarded Dame Vera the Honorary Citizenship Medal of Saint-Sever. She couldn’t be here in person, so Susan Fleet, her personal assistant, who helped organise the event, accepted it on Dame Vera’s behalf.
“Dame Vera has taken our little community in Normandy to her heart, won many new friends and introduced her music to a new audience.
“She represents the bond which developed between our two countries as we stood shoulder to shoulder against oppression and tyranny.”
He said the commune’s first contact with Dame Vera came in the previous year, 2018, when the mairie called on the local British community for help in tracing relatives of the crew of a Wellington bomber that crashed in the town in 1941.
Children of the local primary school learned Dame Vera’s song The White Cliffs of Dover to sing at the ceremony which was attended by over 2,000 people including relatives of airmen and civilians who lost their lives in that crash and several others.
“Dame Vera sent a wonderful message of support which emphasised the ties between our countries and she asked to be updated with news from our commune," Mr Davidge said.
“She could not travel over in person but Susan Fleet came over and we have kept in touch with Dame Vera ever since. She is remarkable.
“It is good to know that one of Britain’s most honoured musical performers has become a symbol of the friendship between the UK and France.”
Mr Davidge also discovered, by a stroke of chance, that his mother, Beatrice Cook, attended the same school as Dame Vera and was about the same age.
When sifting through some old photos to send to a relative, he found a photograph of his mother and her school class, taken in London’s East Ham (above).
“I sent Susan Fleet a rough copy,” he said. “Dame Vera identified herself in the group, and I understand it is still on her mantlepiece.”
In previous Connexion interviews Dame Vera told us how she enjoys French music and feels fortunate to have seen Edith Piaf live, and feels she might have done well in France as “they sang my sort of song - with a story to tell.”
Music is a universal language, says Dame Vera Lynn [paywall/subscribers]
Dame Vera, 100, still making and breaking records [paywall/subscribers]
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