Vera Lynn, British singer who entertained troops before the 1944 Battle of Kohima and travelled across Bengal and the north-east over nine weeks, staging over 100 shows and comforting injured soldiers in hospitals at the time, has died aged 103, her family said on Thursday.
Born in 1917, Lynn, better known as ‘The Forces’ Sweetheart’, performed hits such as ‘We’ll Meet Again’ to troops during World War II in various countries, including India, Egypt and Myanmar as part of the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) set up to lift spirits of soldiers on the frontline.
Reports in April 1944 mention her arrival in India with her accompanist Len Edwards for the entertainment of troops when they were fighting the Japanese advance, particularly in the north-east. She was in colonial Calcutta for a week before going to the north-east.
Over nine weeks in India, Lynn, considered the ‘voice of ENSA’, performed in over 100 shows, visited hospitals and autographed a large number of rupee-notes, scraps of paper and photographs of soldiers. In 1975, she was awarded the royal honour of ‘Dame’: the women’s equivalent of knighthood.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson led tributes to Lynn: “Dame Vera Lynn’s charm and magical voice entranced and uplifted our country in some of our darkest hours. Her voice will live on to lift and hearts of generations to come”.
Lynn recounted her experience of travelling in Myanmar in 1944 to The Guardian in 2017, when she turned 100: “Singing in the jungle was very hot and very sticky, which was a bit hard going. I had a little piano, which they trudged around on the back of a lorry, hoping it would survive the journeys”.
“It wasn’t surprising that when I started singing, the piano had suffered and was slightly out of tune. To see the boys as they were brought into the casualty tents was very emotional. It cheered the parents up when they heard that I had been there. They thought it couldn’t be so bad.”
Her records sold in the millions and for decades her songs remained on top of the charts, particularly The White Cliffs Of Dover, There’ll Always Be An England, I’ll Be Seeing You, Wishing and If Only I Had Wings.
Lynn’s last public performance was in Trafalgar Square in 2005 during the 60th anniversary celebrations for VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), when she performed We’ll Meet Again.