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Vera Lynn: The Forces Sweetheart

Dame Vera Lynn at the unveiling of a contemporary sculpture on Victoria Embankment to mark the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, in central London   | Photo Credit: MATTHEW FEARN

Every war costs dear, and this includes the emotional toll on the soldiers and their families back home.

The Mel Gibson-starrer We Were Soldiers (based on a key battle between the United States Army and the North Vietnamese Army in the Vietnam War) is punctuated with scenes highlighting this aspect of war.

Two of them stand out. In one, 2nd Lieutenant Jack Geoghegan confides his fears to his reporting officer, Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, more as a father than soldier.

“Between college and here, Barbara and I spent a year in Africa. We helped build a school for orphans. They were orphans because the war lord across the border didn't like their tribe. I know God has a plan for me, I just hope it's to help protect orphans, not make any.”

In another, the usually pleasant-tempered Julia Moore, Lt. Col. Moore’s wife, lets out an involuntary invective at a postman. He's carrying a telegram for someone else, but seeing him lingering at her doorstep, she fears the worst, and hence the outburst.

Against the question of the debilitating psychological effect of war, Vera Lynn’s career as singer assumes great significance. Seventy-five years ago, in 1943, in the midst of a worldwide war, a muscial film, We'll Meet Again hit the screens.It was based on Vera and how her singing soothed the nerves of soldiers and their families back home. The film derived its name from a sentimental war song that Vera popularied during World War II and later.

The song ‘We'll Meet Again’ was a song of hope in the midst of fear, and millions believe she has rendered it the best.

Vera Lynn: The Forces Sweetheart

Vera seemed to be “the voice” of the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), which had been created to life the spirits if soldeirs of theBritish empire that were enaged in World War II.

As part of ENSA, Vera visited various units and wherever she went, she was expected to sing this song. She came to be known as “The Forces' Sweetheart”. She toured North-East India, where troops of the Empire had to fend off attacks by the Japanese.

In his book Second World War, Martin Gilbert writes about the precarious situation these troops were in, in Imphal and how they had to be helped, through reinforcements and supplies. He writes about “Operation Stamina’ (which began on April 18, 1944), an air lift to the British and Indian troops beseiged in Imphal. By the end of the month, 1,479 men and 1,929 tons of supplies had been flown in by air. By the end of June, 12,561 men and 18,824 tons had been delivered.”

A report in The Hindu dated April 4, 1944, mentions her arrival in the country: “Vera Lynn with Len Edwards – her accompanist arrived in India for the entertainment of troops.”

Five days later, another report talks about her tour: “Vera Lynn, ‘the forces sweetheart’ arrived in Calcutta on Thursday. She will remain for about a week...then leave on tour and hopes to cover as many stations as possible entertaining troops.”

And in its May 29, 1944 edition, The Hindu reports about the success of her tour. “In nine weeks of touring, she has given 100 shows, made countless appearances in hospitals, and her autographed more than 1,00,000 rupee notes, scraps of paper, pay-books and photographs for her soldier fans.”

To this day, Vera, who is 101 years old, is considered the reigning queen of wartime singing. And, her version of ‘We'll Meet Again’ remains a benchmark in this genre. In 2009, her compiliation album ‘We'll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn’ topped the British charts in the albums category. And last month, she was honoured with a lifetime achievement award as part of Classic BRIT Awards.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 12:52:29 AM |

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