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Dame Vera Lynn thanks 'the boys' in Burma as she celebrates her 100th birthday

The singer shares stories from her life and career in the special documentary.

Dame Vera Lynn praised the soldiers who kept her safe while she sang in Burma during the Second World War, in a programme celebrating her 100th birthday.

The Forces’ Sweetheart tells the BBC documentary about the stories behind her rise to global fame, including her posting with the Entertainments National Service Association in 1944.

Remembering the moment she woke up to find four Japanese fighters prowling outside her hut, she said: “I always knew I was being very well looked after, the boys never left my side.”

Dame Vera, who turns 100 on Monday March 20, also recounts the night British soldiers rushed to hold her piano together when it fell apart mid-performance following a bumpy drive through the jungle.

But in Saturday’s programme she admits that, when she signed up for the position to help boost troops’ morale, the heat was one aspect she did not fully think through.

“Trying to put make-up on was my first mistake,” she said, “and I shouldn’t have got a perm.”

Presented by Katie Derham, the programme takes viewers through Dame Vera’s journey from singing in working men’s clubs in London from the age of seven, to hosting her own radio show Sincerely Yours, where she passed messages between soldiers fighting overseas with their families at home.

She continued to sing and appear on television after her return from Burma, eventually becoming the first British artist to make number one in America.

Her 2009 compilation We’ll Meet Again, which shares its name with one of her biggest global hits, made her the oldest living artist to top the UK album charts.

Stars such as Miriam Margolyes, Barry Humphries and Sir Paul McCartney also speak about the renowned singer’s influence, along with war veterans who met her in the field.

One veteran explained how he took a dangerous two-hour trip through the Burmese jungle to meet her, while another described hearing her sing as “the best bottle of medicine”.

Having never had professional musical training, viewers will learn how the early days of her career saw Dame Vera spend “hours leafing through sheet music” in London’s Denmark Street to find the songs she wanted to perform.

“I always looked at the lyrics first because I thought they were more important, and if I liked them then I would look at the tune,” she said.

Dame Vera’s daughter, Virginia Lewis-Jones, will show Katie a selection of her mother’s fan mail, which she still receives on a daily basis, including a birthday message from the late Queen Mother.

Dame Vera Lynn: Happy 100th Birthday broadcasts on BBC Two on Saturday at 9pm.

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