Released in 1939, the song’s emotional lyrics struck a chord with the whole nation during World War II and they are still as meaningful today as they were 78 years ago.
Veteran singer Dame Vera, who celebrated her 100th birthday in March, became known as the “Force’s Sweetheart” after she went to meet thousands of troops during the war, singing We’ll Meet Again at concerts to boost the Armed Forces’ morale and to lift their spirits until the war finally ended in 1945.
For the troops stationed far away from home, the lyrics of the song (written by Ross Parker and Hugh Charles) gave them hope of seeing their loved ones again, as Dame Vera’s silky-smooth voice reassured them, “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”
As Remembrance Sunday approaches, the British public and those in other Commonwealth nations will be preparing to pay tribute to those brave members of the Armed Forces who lost their lives fighting for their country in times of war.
Remembrance services will be held across the nation to mark the day World War One officially ended – at 11am, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in 1918. Remembrance Day, otherwise known as Armistice Day, is always the 11th November but traditionally, the services are held on the nearest Sunday after this date. This year’s services will take place on Sunday 12th November.
The Poppy Appeal and the laying of wreaths during the moving services date from World War I – from 1914 to 1918. Much of the fighting took place in Western Europe, where the once beautiful countryside was bombed and fought over continually, leaving a bleak and barren landscape of fields of mud, with all the greenery destroyed.
However, the resilient red Flanders poppies began to grow back in their thousands, creating a blanket of beautiful colour in the middle of destruction and chaos. A Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who had lost his friend in Ypres early in 1915, was inspired so much by the sight of the poppies that he wrote the moving poem that today is world-famous.
After reading the poem that was written in May 1915, American academic Moina Michael made red silk poppies to sell in aid of ex-servicemen’s welfare. They were brought to England by Anna Guerin, and the British Legion (formed in 1921) immediately ordered nine million of them to sell on 11th November.
They sold out and the first Poppy Appeal raised an amazing £106,000 – equating to £4.3 million today – to help World War I veterans with housing and employment. In 1922, Major George Howson set up his Poppy Factory in Aylesford, employing disabled ex-servicemen to make poppies for sale. It produces millions of poppies today and the annual Poppy Appeal goes from strength to strength.
Dame Vera Lynn – who was born on 20th March 1917 in East Ham, London, to working class parents, plumber Bertram and dressmaker Annie Welsh – has lived through two World Wars. She was already singing in working men’s clubs by the time she was seven and by the time she was 11, she took the stage name Lynn – this was her grandmother’s maiden name. She soon became the family’s main breadwinner.
At 15, band leader Howard Baker spotted her singing at the Poplar Baths and he signed her up immediately. She released her first solo record called Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire in 1936, when she was just 19. Three years later, she was a huge recording artist who had sold more than one million records. She bought a new house for her parents.
It was somewhat ironic that an artist recognised as one of the world’s greatest singers went for vocal coaching as a young woman but her singing teacher declared Dame Vera’s voice wasn’t “natural” and that she couldn’t be coached.
She went on to forge a career as a celebrated actress, singer and recording artist and during World War II, she toured extensively in India, Egypt and Burma with the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), meeting the troops and singing at outdoor concerts. Her best-loved songs include We’ll Meet Again, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, The White Cliffs of Dover and There’ll Always Be an England.
Dame Vera was voted the British Expeditionary Forces’ favourite singer – she was up against stiff competition from Americans Bing Crosby and Judy Garland.
Her popularity has never waned and after the war, she appeared on TV and radio in the UK and United States, recording a massive string of hits such as her number one UK single, My Son My Son. In 2009, when she was 92, she became the oldest singer ever to have a number one hit in the UK albums chart with We’ll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn.
Earlier this year, to celebrate her 100th birthday, Dame Vera released another album, Vera Lynn 100, which reached number three in the charts – to make her the first centenarian singer to have a chart album. She has spent her whole life undertaking fundraising work to help charities that assist ex-servicemen, breast cancer victims and disabled children.
Dame Vera has always been held in high esteem by war veterans and has been named the Brit who best personifies the spirit of the 20th century.
Never underestimate the importance of meetings and what they can achieve. Although few are as momentous as Dame Vera meeting the troops, they provide the opportunity to share views and exchange ideas.
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