LONDON (Reuters) - Vera Lynn, the singer who became a symbol of hope in Britain during World War Two and again during the coronavirus pandemic with her song “We’ll Meet Again”, died at the age of 103 on Thursday.
Known as the Forces’ Sweetheart, Lynn struck a chord with soldiers fighting overseas and with the public back home through her performances and records, including “The White Cliffs of Dover”.
To mark her 100th birthday in 2017, a giant image of Lynn as a young woman was projected onto those white cliffs and a new album released.
She was back in the headlines in April when Queen Elizabeth used words from Lynn’s song to tell the country “We will meet again” and urged people to show resolve during the coronavirus lockdown.
Lynn died on Thursday morning surrounded by close relatives, her family said in a statement to British media.
The queen is to send a private message of condolence to Lynn’s family, Buckingham Palace said. The office of heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla said they were remembering the singer.
“Dame Vera Lynn’s charm and magical voice entranced and uplifted our country in some of our darkest hours,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter. “Her voice will live on to lift the hearts of generations to come.”
She died on the day Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron marked the 80th anniversary of General de Gaulle’s call for resistance to the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two.
Decca Records, which worked with Lynn since her earliest releases, paid tribute to its “brightest and most enduring star”.
Lynn was born Vera Welch on March 20, 1917, the daughter of a plumber in London’s East End, and was singing in working men’s clubs at the age of seven.
She began radio broadcasts and singing with bands in the late 1930s. But it was her wartime songs that won her fame and led to British tanks trundling into battle with “Vera” painted on their sides and more than 1,000 written offers of marriage from servicemen.
In 1941, she began a weekly radio broadcast from London called “Sincerely Yours” in which she relayed messages from British troops serving in all war theatres to their loved ones.
She also toured Burma in 1944 and was later presented with the Burma Star medal.
Captain Tom Moore, a veteran of that campaign who this year raised more than 33 million pounds for the National Health Service during the pandemic, tweeted: “She had a huge impact on me in Burma and remained important to me throughout my life.”
Ironically, Lynn’s biggest hit had a German title and came after the war. “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart”, backed by a soldiers’ chorus, sold more than 12 million copies worldwide and made Lynn the first British performer to top the U.S. hit parade.
The song made her a star in the United States in the 1950s. But the noisy advent of rock and roll eventually elbowed aside her more sedate brand of nostalgia.
In 1975 - amid a chorus of press disapproval that it had taken so long - Lynn was given the title of Dame of the British Empire.
Always modest about her contribution to Britain’s wartime effort, she told an interviewer in 1984: ”Everyone pulled together and tried to live their lives as normally as possible.”
Lynn never sought publicity and lived quietly for most of her life on England’s south coast near Brighton with Harry Lewis, the man she had married in 1941 - a clarinet player who became her manager.
Known locally in the village of Ditchling as Mrs Lewis, she had a passion for gardening and detective novels.
”I was lucky,” she said. ”I had a talent; it lifted me out of the bracket I was born into.
”And when I got my house and a little car, I thought, well that’s all I want.”
Writing by Michael Holden, Guy Faulconbridge, Peter Griffiths and Andrew Heavens; Editing by Janet Lawrence