Award-winning Dame Vera Lynn remembers 'old British spirit'
Dame Vera Lynn has paid tribute to "the old British spirit" as she recalled her wartime experiences as "the Forces' Sweetheart".
The much-loved singer has been recognised by the Soldiering On Awards for her outstanding contribution to the morale of servicemen and women during the Second World War, and their families back home.
Dame Vera, 99, is also being celebrated for the charity work she undertook after the war, in particular her continued support for the Armed Forces community.
Presented with her award by BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine, she told him about the "moving experience" of meeting veteran Second World War soldiers.
"They brought back so many memories from their chums that they were stationed with who probably hadn't got back home."
Dame Vera added: "It was quite a moving experience really. But the old British spirit was very high and made the best of everything."
Born in London, Dame Vera was 21 at the outbreak of war. She thought her blossoming singing career was over and that she would end up in a munitions factory.
Having joined the Entertainment National Services Association (ENSA), Dame Vera wanted to make a contribution to the war effort, so asked for a posting where other concert parties were not going, and ended up in Burma.
It was here where, during the darkest days of the Second World War, she brought hope and inspiration to the British soldiers.
"They were very concerned about everybody back home, their family and friends," she said. "I was able to reassure them."
She continued: "It was a time, in a funny way I enjoyed. To be able to do what I could - everybody wanted to do something to help during the war and that's the best thing I knew how to do - to go on singing."
She travelled thousands of miles, often at great personal risk, to entertain the troops and comfort them with words of hope.
Dame Vera spoke with warmth about her "wonderful opportunity" and said the soldiers were always happy to see somebody from home.
On the subject of We'll Meet Again, the song for which she remains best known, the Londoner said she had sung it before war was declared.
"I thought, well that's a good song to take as a signature tune because nothing could be better than everybody hoping they would meet again," Dame Vera recalled. "That's how that song came to be so popular."
More than half a century later, her name and fame endures.
Vine, 50, said meeting her was "one of the most magical afternoons" of his career.
"I found it very emotional," he said. "I walked into her living room and there she was, lively and with time for me and the team. She talked about the war years, and those that followed, with crystal clarity."
He added: "Those eyes fix you - they're like steel! And she wanted me to stay and look through her photo albums. I couldn't believe it - I am being shown photos of Vera Lynn by Vera Lynn, I thought. One of the most magical afternoons of my career."
Dame Vera said she did not expect to become so popular with the nation.
"I was just an entertainer doing broadcasting for the boys overseas and doing messages from their parents to say they were alright and coping."
:: The Soldiering On Awards take place on April 22. See www.soldieringon.org for more information.