A look back at Dame Vera Lynn’s life and time in Sussex

Dame Vera Lynn has died at the age of 103. Here, we look at her incredible life and her time in Sussex.

Thursday, 18th June 2020, 10:12 am
Updated Thursday, 18th June 2020, 10:57 am

For decades Dame Vera delighted crowds and was known as the ‘Forces’ Sweetheart’.

Born in East London in 1917, her career began at just seven years old.

She spent the 1920s and 30s fronting some of the top society orchestras and featured on many of their recordings.

Dame Vera Lynn

On her 100th birthday when asked what made her want to be a singer she said: “Immediately I think of ‘don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington’.

“I suppose I really started singing at family parties at Christmas, birthdays and other special occasions.

“Presumably, I showed musical talent and from there I started entering competitions. One was run by Nat Travers, an entertainer.

“Initially, I didn’t actually win but people in the audience started shouting ‘what about the little girl in the red dress?’ and so I took home the prize.”

Dame Vera Lynn

A Ditchling resident for a number of years, Dame Vera said that this part of Sussex would always hold a special part in her heart.

“I have to say that I have really enjoyed the community spirit of living in this part of Sussex and helping good causes.” she said.

“There is a very good sense of community here in Ditchling and I fondly remember the wonderful garden parties and fetes on the village green next to the church.

“Everybody in the village came together, there were local jams and fresh produce for sale, lovely old books, local musicians, bunting and great camaraderie among the residents.”

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Forces’ Sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn dies aged 103

Best known for her 1939 recording of the popular song ‘We’ll Meet Again’ during the Second World War, Dame Vera toured Egypt, India and Burma with the Entertainment National Services Association to perform for the troops.

“I wanted to be able to cheer them up,” she previously commented.

“Generally speaking, nobody was going there. Some were visiting the cities, but no one was going into the jungle... perhaps because there was no electricity or running water.

“The appreciation I received from the boys just for being there was something that has always remained special to me throughout my whole life.

“It meant a great deal to them that I’d travelled so far just to say hello and sing a few songs but I was truly honoured to do it.”

Looking back at her career Dame Vera previously said that the things she was most proud of were the titles she was awarded, especially ‘Forces’ Sweetheart’.

In 1941, she married Harry Lewis, a clarinetist and saxophonist, and fellow member of Ambrose’s orchestra whom she had met two years earlier. They had one child, Virginia Penelope Anne Lewis. Her husband died in 1998.

Over the years she was an active supporter of many charities, many of which were serviceman charities nationally and locally included St Peter and St James Hospice, The Bluebell Railway, and Princess Royal Hospital.

In 2001, she founded the Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy but the name was later changed to Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity to clearly state the focus on children.

“Establishing the charity was one of my proudest moments and I am now so pleased to see it grow to help more children and their parents,” Dame Vera previously said.

Founded in 2001, the charity’s aim was to support families and children aged under five with cerebral palsy and other motor learning difficulties.

“When the charity was founded in 1955, there were no fundraising initiatives for children with cerebral palsy, even though it is such an important cause and one very close to my heart,” Dame Vera said.

“I worked with the other trustees, David Jacobs, Lady Jane Westmoreland and Wilfred Pickles, to bring the issue into focus, and I’ve been thrilled to see the charity develop and expand its remit.”

Dame Vera had previously said about her career: “I feel very fortunate to have had longevity in a business not know for its security.

“I am very grateful to have worked with some musical legends such as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Tallulah Bankhead, Charles Anzanour and Florence Desmond to name just a few.”

Asked how it felt to reach her 100th year, Dame Vera answered: “Old. Old in body but young in spirit.”