Born Vera Margaret Welch on March 20, 1917, in East Ham, London, England; married Harry Lewis (a clarinetist), 1941 (died, 1990s); children: a daughter, Virginia Penelope Ann. Education: Attended Brampton Road School, East Ham, London. Addresses: Home--Ditchling, East Sussex, United Kingdom.

Vera Lynn was the most popular singer of World War II-era Britain, known during and after the war as the Forces' Sweetheart. The nickname was an apt one, for Lynn helped raise morale during the war effort by virtue of a down-to-earth quality that reminded servicemen of those they had left behind at home. Lynn had her own British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio program, and her popularity was phenomenal. Welsh-born comedian and Goon Show star Harry Secombe was once quoted in London's Independent newspaper as saying, "Churchill didn't beat the Nazis. Vera sang them to death."

Lynn was born Vera Margaret Welch in the East Ham section of London's blue-collar East End on March 20, 1917. Lynn, her stage surname, was her grandmother's maiden name. Her father was a plumber, and her natural accent, only temporarily modified while she was a star, was Cockney. When she was seven, Lynn performed at an East End club, and she made singing and dancing a full-time occupation as soon as she could. At eleven she dropped out of school and began touring Britain year-round with a music hall variety show.

By 1933 Lynn had begun performing as a soloist. With a sweet voice, a hint of vulnerability, and an unusual un-starlike self-effacing quality, she quickly got the attention of the British public. "I was never a glamor girl. I was the girl next door," Lynn told Australia's Courier-Mail. She began to get jobs fronting top British society orchestras, genteel groups still barely touched by the spirit of jazz and Broadway song. In 1935 she made her radio debut with the Joe Loss orchestra, and two years later she landed a weekly slot on Life from Mayfair, an Ambrose Orchestra program beloved among Britons from the Prince of Wales on down.

It was no surprise when Lynn came out on top in a 1939 Daily Express poll where British servicemen were asked to name their favorite musical performers, even though Lynn later recalled that she was flabbergasted. She was dubbed the Forces' Sweetheart as a result. The bond British soldiers felt with Lynn grew stronger as World War II intensified and they were scattered across the globe. Lynn married musician Harry Lewis in 1941. The relationship got off to an unpromising start. "I don't think I thought much of him at first. He wooed me with chewing gum," Lynn told London's Guardian newspaper. But the marriage lasted 58 years, until Lewis's death in the late 1990s. For much of the singer's career, Lewis served as her manager.

In 1941 Lynn was given her own BBC radio show, Sincerely Yours. It was an instant success, not only in Britain but on every worldwide battleground the BBC reached via shortwave radio. Lynn performed the songs that became emblematic of World War II: "White Cliffs of Dover" and "We'll Meet Again." The latter became a wartime classic, of the sort that combines nostalgia with a looming sense of threat ("We'll meet again. Don't know where, don't know when ..."). The latter song, introduced by Lynn with the Ambrose Orchestra in 1939, became the title track of one of three films she starred in during the war years. Sincerely Yours remained on the air until 1947.

In 1944, with the global war at its height, Lynn undertook a tour to entertain British troops in Egypt, India, and Burma. In later years she would express her amusement when Spice Girl Geri Halliwell demanded a refrigerator full of soymilk before performing for soldiers bound for Iraq. "She's lucky to be somewhere there is a fridge," she told the Guardian, recalling her stays in grass huts with a bucket of water for a shower. But the trip to distant Burma was worth it. "I remember one of the boys saying, 'Home can't be that far away, 'cause you're here,'" she told the Guardian. "It shortened the distance somehow."

Lynn's popularity easily survived the wartime years. After peace came, she and Lewis had a daughter, Virginia, but Lynn soon returned to performing. She toured all over the British Commonwealth and appeared in a Las Vegas cabaret and on radio in the United States as a guest on the Big Show program hosted by actress Tallulah Bankhead. She gave eight command performances for the British royal family, and her most successful single recording came, not during the war, but in 1951 with "Auf Wiederseh'n," a song ironically enough with a German theme. That recording brought Lynn to the top of the charts in the United States, making her the first English performer to reach that level. Telling the Courier-Mail that "I don't live in the past even though I have never been allowed to forget it," she experimented with newer pop styles and had some success in the 1970s with a cover of Abba's "Thank You for the Music." But audiences mostly wanted to hear her wartime classics.

Moving with her family to the small town of Ditchling in England's East Sussex region, Lynn threw herself into projects of various kinds. She led an activist group that tried to restrict heavy truck traffic in the historic area, and she was a reliable choice when it came to in-person and broadcast fundraising appeals. She remained especially interested in the problems of British war veterans, working in the 1990s for Tribute and Promise, an umbrella group of 130 charities working to aid the war generation. In 1992 she founded the Dame Vera Lynn School for Parents and Handicapped Children. Two years later, a plan to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France with such frivolous events as a Spam-cooking competition was quickly scotched after she raised her voice in protest.

Lynn's numerous honors in later life included elevation to the Order of the British Empire in 1959 and to the rank of Dame of the British Empire in 1975, as well as such novelties as the Show Business Personality Award from the Grand Order of Water Rats. She took tea with the Queen and celebrated her 80th birthday at a reception with Princess Margaret, and she sponsored an organization of London taxi drivers who gave free rides to veterans. In 2000, six decades after becoming the Forces' Sweetheart, Lynn came out on top in another nationwide British poll: she was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the twentieth century.

by James M. Manheim

Vera Lynn's Career

Began performing at age seven; toured British music halls, late 1920s and early 1930s; performed with Joe Loss Orchestra, c. 1935; performed with Charlie Kunz Orchestra; performed with Ambrose Orchestra on nationwide British radio show Life from Mayfair, 1937-40; voted British Forces' Sweetheart in Daily Express newspaper poll, 1939; star of own radio show, Sincerely Yours, c. 1940-47; performed for British forces in Egypt, India, and Burma during World War II; continued to perform after war; recorded "Auf Wiederseh'n," which became the first recording by an English artist to top U.S. charts, 1951; involved with British veterans' causes, 1960s--; founded Dame Vera Lynn School for Parents and Handicapped Children, 1992.

Vera Lynn's Awards

Order of the British Empire, 1959; Dame of the British Empire, 1975; Spirit of the 20th Century Award, 2000.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

PeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 2 years ago

I love listening to songs from 1930 - 1950's which of course include Vera Lynn. Was very happy to acquire her CD recently (the Very Best of Vera Lynn) and was extremely happy to know we share a birthday, just a few years apart. Love you little fishy (Pisces)

over 2 years ago

History will recall her many many years more than any other entertainer whoever lived either here in the US or overseas.Her legend will live as long as the heros of WWII.God bless her and what she did for the war effort of Engand and its brave men.God bless you Vera Lynn.I only wish I could meet you in person.Happy Birthday Mar.20,2012 and many more.

almost 3 years ago

HI. WE GREW UP IN CANADA WATCHING THE BRITISH WAR TIME MOVIES AS LATE MOVIES ON THE TELEVISION. WHILE SURFING EBAY.UK, I CAME ACROSS THE DAILY TIMES RELEASE OF ABOUT 15 OR SO OF MY OLD FAVORITES. I CONTINUE TO WATCH FOR SHIPYARD SALLY, BUT AMONG MY COLLECTION IS A TV PROGRAM BROADCAST IN 1983 OF DAME VERAS TRIP TO VANCOUVER WHERE SHE SANG TO THE CANADIAN VETS. SHE WAS IN VERY FINE VOICE. EVERY YEAR SINCE THEN I'VE WATCHED FOR IT BUT IT NEVER REPEATED. I'VE MOVED IT OVER TO SEVERAL DVDS TO PRESERVE IT. AT LEAST IT IS STILL AVAILABLE TO ME. BEST REGARDS . JACK

almost 3 years ago

Well I never! Just discovered that Vera and I are second cousins!!! Her grandfather Herbert John Welch born 19/08/1869 and my grandfather William Earnest Welch born 25/04/1867 were brothers !!!! My father William Reginald Welch and her father Henry Welch were first cousins. How extraordinary - does anyone know how i would contact Dame Vera Lynn to let her know? Mildred Joy Welch born 30/09/1932

over 3 years ago

turns out Vera is my great second cousin i think because she is my dads mums cousin...

over 3 years ago

I believe I may be related to Dame Vera through my mother, whose maternal grandfather was Henry Lynn. Dame Vera took her grandmother's name when she became a singer and there is a strong physical resemblance between her and my own mother at the age of nearly ninety when she died.

almost 4 years ago

Ashliegh, can I say I found out she is like my grandads auntie or something as well haha...wierd huh?

almost 4 years ago

In 1952 I was doing my National Service in the RAF. In June I was at HQ London District, Great Scotland Yard, just off Whitehall and we were asked for volunteers to sing as a "choir" with Vera for a record. The recording was on the very day of my sister's wedding, I think 8th May 1952! To my great regret, therefore, I could not sing on a record with Vera Lynn. For the sake of my sister and myself, can anyone please tell me which songs were recorded on that day? It would be lovely to buy the record, if there was one coming out of that session, as a great souvenir for my sister. Regards, Brian

almost 4 years ago

simply the greatest british recording artiste, i have loads of her cd's and vinyl albums too. i play dame vera every day. when i was a 10 year old i met the great lady after a sunday concert at the opera house blackpool, programme signed for me plus a kiss on the cheek. watching dame vera that evening was anne shelton and winifred atwell

about 4 years ago

I contend that anyone who isn't deeply moved by hearing Vera Lynn sing "We'll Meet Again" should be declared legally dead! As a kid in West Texas, I followed the war in the newspapers and newsreels and especially on the radio, where I heard Churchill's matchless speeches through the transatlantic static, thrilled to the accounts of the defiance of Britain and the courage of the outnumbered RAF pilots during the Blitz, celebrated the rescues from Dunkirk -- and discovered Vera Lynn's great songs. She, like Glenn Miller, Jo Stafford, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" came to symbolize our resolve to support our troops, defeat the Axis and establish (we thought) a peaceful and democratic world. So, many sincere thanks, Dame Vera. I only wish that I could express my gratitude in person. Joseph Benham Kerrville TX USA

about 4 years ago

i am a hugee fan of Vera... ROCK ON

over 4 years ago

I was 14 years old when I heard the song "It Hurts to say Goodbye" sometime in the 60's a very sentimental one I love that song, it reminisces the days when I was young. With our new technology today it was only now that I saw the face to discover the beautiful lady with a beautiful voice who sing my very favorite song.

over 4 years ago

I was 14 years old when I heard the song "It Hurts to say Goodbye" sometime in the 60's a very sentimental one I love that song, it reminisces the days when I was young. With our new technology today it was only now that I saw the face to discover the beautiful lady with a beautiful voice who sing my very favorite song.

over 4 years ago

I was 11 years old (1965)in Denmark, where I'm from, visiting my mother's aunt, when she rushed to the radio to turn it up. You were singing "Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye". She was singing and dancing along with you and the tune has stayed with me ever since and represents a very happy time. Thank you for all that you mean to so many people, still, after all this time.

almost 5 years ago

My Dad came over from Scotland at the age of 13 and they sang We'll meet again to them. He remembers it like it was yesterday.

almost 5 years ago

Vera , although living in Brazil and being 48 years old I have all yours records... you are fantastic, thank you for everything you have made for the soldiers that save us from a new dark age.

almost 5 years ago

During the war years my mother`s sister, Priscilla Wise sang on the same bill a couple of times with Vera Lynn. She was almost baritone. I remember my aunt tell who ever would listen what a wonderful person she was to work with. Oh for more people like you in the world today.

almost 5 years ago

My Dad used to work for a printers in East Ham, called the 'Wakefield Press' not far from Upton Park. He was in charge of printing the Bill Posters for Vera to be put up outside the clubs where she was going to sing. This was before WW-II. He was 18 years old when he worked there. That would have made Vera 17 years old. This is the closest to knowing someone famous my Dad has ever got. Naturally he has followed her through her books, films and music. Although he had met her several times at the printers, she never knew his name. Maybe she would remember the printers??? and so would remember him too. My Dad is still alive (93 years old) and is enjoying reading her current autobiography.

almost 5 years ago

Vera, I would like to thank you for all you have done for all of our soldiers! (My Grandfather and son included)! My Mother asked me to help her find a CD for her (We'll Meet Again)and since then I have listened to you on my computer and what a wonderful voice you have. Hat's off to you and I wish you a happy and wonderful life! Kathy

almost 5 years ago

Not old enough to remember the war years but do remember their impact on all families on 'Both' sides. And while my own family may have listened to and loved Marlene Dietrich, just as much they listened to and loved Vera Lynn as I do too... even today. The only singer who brings a sweet tear to our eyes. The world would have been a poorer place without her and she remains(I have no doubt), one of the world's most loved, of all people.

about 5 years ago

i recently found out im related to her from my nana lol =D im 16

about 5 years ago

While I was born in America and didnt really know who vera lynn was until I was pregnant with my daughter and listened to pink floyds the wall this is who we named our daughter after and since my middle name is lynn it fit perfectly so thanks to her my daughter is named vera lynn too!!!

about 5 years ago

During wartime, when Vera sang on the radio, silence was absolute in our household. As young, Black Country kids,faced with the prospect of whalemeat on the menu as a substitute for meat, we changed the words of "We'll meet again" to Whalemeat again." It seemed so appropriate at the time and I'm sure Vera would have had a chuckle, had she have heard our version.

over 5 years ago

VERA LYNN IS THE ABSOLUTE EPITOME OF A PATRIOT WHO WENT OUT OF HER WAY TO ENTERTAIN THE ALLIED TROOPS DURING WWII AND AFTER. A WONDERFUL LADY WITH A BEAUTIFUL, MEMORABLE VOICE.

over 5 years ago

wow vera lynn i think i must be ur youngest fan as I'm 11 and i absolutley adore you i always have and i always will. I did a ww11 concert at my school on my birthday (19th november)and we sang four of your most famous songs and it was amazing

over 5 years ago

Happy Birthday Vera and have many many more. My Father, as with thousands of other servicemen, adored you. You brought warmth, joy and thoughts of home into their lives. Thank you.

over 5 years ago

Happy Birthday. I hope it is a memorable one for you. I have been a fan of yours since I was a little girl during the war and my Mum and Dad used to play your records on an old gramaphone that my Dad made. He saw you performing to the troops when he was in Germany. I can always play her music and retreat to a safe, happy place for a little while.

over 5 years ago

with loved ones across waters, both East and West, we sat listening to Vera Lynn read "White Cliffs of Dover", and when she shouted "The Yanks are comeing. the Yanks are coming" --- the tears flowed!

almost 7 years ago

I remember as a child during wwII hearing the beautiful voice of Vera Lynn over the radio..Recently with the use of my computor I have listened to many of her recordings...She has such a beautiful voice and I love her recordings..How we have been blessed to be able to still hear her music..God bless this finelady..TB