This week in the UK we lost someone very special to the country’s recent history, the singer Dame Vera Lynn at the age of 103.
What an icon she has been to our country across the years since the Second World War and an icon for women in general. She was a millionaire though you would never have known, she was from the East End of London, though her accent during the war years and since didn’t suggest that — and she kept true to her roots for her whole life. She embraced ordinary and, it seems from all of the tributes, was genuinely interested in everyone.
She suffered setbacks. One possible singing tutor told her that ‘that voice could not be trained’ yet she was undetered. She became known through her association with the BBC, as the Forces’ Sweetheart and she sang to the troops via a radio show to keep their spirits up. She visited troops, and choose to visit those who were often forgotten in Egypt, India and Burma.
After the war she continued to campaign and support veterans and although she had a varied career, her association with the war with songs like ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ have endured in the public’s memory of her. My thoughts are with her family and friends at this time — they must be sad yet so very proud.
As a teenager, growing up in the 1970s and 1980s (Dame Vera was made a ‘Dame’ in 1975) I remember thinking she was a bit ‘twee’ and very old fashioned and from a bygone era. I didn’t like the songs much either. The utter arrogance of youth!
Now of course I realise, especially at this time of Covid19, that she represented something incredibly important that we have allowed, in the UK our education system and our society, to forget. THE ARTS MATTER.
In the worst of times, in the darkest of spaces, in the heart of war, those who bring joy, bring hope and bestow memory are often the artists. They may be singers, writers, poets, story-tellers, musicians, sculptors, painters….these are the people who capture the emotion of the worst and the best of times. And that’s a real and tangible and vital skill in any society, anywhere.
When soldiers were during the war in the most awful, unimaginable conditions, enduring experiences beyond us and beyond them, existing and just trying to…