5 things you should know about Dame Vera Lynn

Marco Marcelline 28 June 2021

Here are five things you need to know about Dame Vera Lynn, the iconic British singer popularly known as the “Forces’ Sweetheart”

This month marks a year since the passing of Dame Vera Lynn, when she was 103 years old. To celebrate her life and career, her family have launched a £3 million fundraising appeal for a memorial statue on the White Cliffs of Dover. The statue will be sculpted by renowned artist Paul Day, who is widely known for making statues of many high-profile people. The fundraising attempts also include the release of a new tribute single called “Irreplaceable".

To mark her life, here are five things you should know about Dame Vera Lynn.

Dame Vera Lynn singing

She nearly died from diphtheritic croup as a toddler

Dame Vera Lynn was born on the 20th of March 1917 in East Ham, Essex (now Newham). At the age of two, Lynn fell seriously ill with diphtheritic coup, which starts with a swollen throat and neck before becoming a serious respiratory condition. Her situation became critical, and she was sent to an isolation unit where she stayed for three months before finally recovering. She told The Guardian that her mother became over-protective when she left hospital: “For a long time after I started school I wasn’t allowed to play in the street or visit friends.”

She left school at 11 to become a singer

By the age of seven, Lynn was already making a name for herself as a singer by performing in working men’s clubs. In 1928, she assumed her grandmother’s maiden name (Lynn) before joining a singing troupe named Madame Harris’s Kracker Kabaret. At this point, Lynn had also left school and pursued singing full time. She eventually was spotted by a booking agent who secured work for her at multiple parties and events.

Dame Vera Lynn and her daughter Virginia

Dame Vera Lynn and her daughter Virginia, credit: Susan Fleet

She tried her hand at acting, and portrayed a character based on herself in We’ll Meet Again

After storming to fame and commercial success during the Second World War because of her song “We’ll Meet Again”, Lynn married musician Harry Lewis, who would also become her manager in 1941. Their marriage would last six decades until his death. It was around this time that Lynn made her first foray into the world of acting. In the 1943 musical film We’ll Meet Again, she played a character, Peggy Brown, who was loosely based on herself. In the same year she appeared in Rhythm Serenade, another musical film. Lynn played the starring role—a teacher organising a nursery for a munitions factory.

In 2001, she founded the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity

Dedicated to supporting the parents of children with cerebral palsy and motor neuron diseases. She began her support for children with cerebral palsy back in the 1950’s when she helped form what was then called The Stars Organisation for Spastics that raised money for the Spastics Society which then renamed as Scope in 1994, as ‘spastic’ had become term of abuse that was no longer deemed acceptable for people with cerebral palsy.

The Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity was initially founded as the Dame Vera Lynn School for Parents with Children with Cerebral Palsy in 1992 before rebranding in 2001. In 2002, upon becoming its President, Lynn hosted a celebrity concert on its behalf at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Her other charity endeavours include supporting Burmese refugees in 2010, while in 2013 she joined a PETA campaign against the sport of pigeon racing, stating that the sport is “utterly cruel.”

Dame Vera Lynn in 2009

At 100, she became the oldest living person to have a UK Top 10 album

In a career spanning nine decades, Dame Vera Lynn was absolutely no stranger to the charts. And in March 2017, upon the release of a compilation album titled Vera Lynn 100 to mark her 100th birthday, Lynn became the oldest living person as well as the first ever centenarian to have an album in the Top 10. Unfortunately it was blocked from the top spot by Ed Sheeran and the Canadian rapper Drake, but still managed an impressive Number Three spot. During the 75th Anniversary of VE Day in 2020, the album made a re-appearance in the Album Chart at number 30, which was yet another record-breaking feat.

You can help support the fundraising memorial campaign here and the Justgiving campaign is here.

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