Forces’ Sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn has died at 103, the singer’s family have said.
A statement said: “The family are deeply saddened to announce the passing of one of Britain’s best-loved entertainers at the age of 103.
“Dame Vera Lynn, who lived in Ditchling, East Sussex, passed away earlier today, 18 June 2020, surrounded by her close family.”
The Telegraph said, earlier this year, ahead of the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Dame Vera spoke of remembering “the brave boys and what they sacrificed for us”.
The Queen referenced the title of one of Dame Vera’s most beloved wartime songs when she told the country, separated from families and friends during the coronavirus lockdown: “We will meet again.”
She was also fondly remembered for singing The White Cliffs Of Dover, There’ll Always Be An England, I’ll Be Seeing You, Wishing and If Only I Had Wings, to help raise British spirits during the Blitz.
“My songs reminded the boys of what they were really fighting for,” she once said. “Precious, personal things, rather than ideologies and theories.”
Dame Vera later had her own television show and toured the world.
She remained an outspoken supporter of military veterans throughout her life.
In May, she urged the nation to “remember the brave boys and what they sacrificed for us”.
She added: “They left their families and homes to fight for our freedom and many lost their lives trying to protect us and our liberties.”
She also encouraged the British public to “rediscover that same spirit that saw us through the war” amid the coronavirus pandemic, in a special message before she turned 103 in March.
Dame Vera was born in East Ham, east London, on March 20, 1917.
She performed for troops during the war, often at great personal risk, in countries including Egypt, India and Burma.
In May this year, Dame Vera became the oldest artist to score a top 40 album in the UK.
The 103-year-old saw her greatest hits album 100 re-enter the chart at number 30, boosted by commemorations for the 75th anniversary of VE day on May 8.
Sir Cliff Richard paid tribute to Dame Vera, saying: “Dame Vera Lynn was truly an icon. She was held in such high esteem and my best, and favourite, memory was sharing a performance with her in front of Buckingham Palace for the VE Day celebrations in 1995.
“We walked to the stage through a crowd of survivors of that war, and they were reaching out to touch and get a smile from Vera.
“I heard the words … ‘God bless you’ … ‘Thank you’ … ‘We love you’ for their very own Forces’ Sweetheart! A great singer, a patriotic woman and a genuine icon.
“I am happy to use the words called out on the wonderful day. Vera, thank you, God bless you, and I loved you too.
“Rest in a very deserved peace.”
Sir Tim Rice said: “Dame Vera Lynn was one of the greatest ever British popular singers, not just because of her immaculate voice, warm, sincere, instantly recognisable and musically flawless.
“She will be remembered just as affectionately for her vital work in the Second World War and for her own Charitable Foundations in the 75 years since. A link with more certain times has been irrevocably broken.”
Singer Katherine Jenkins said: “I simply cannot find the words to explain just how much I adored this wonderful lady.
“Her voice brought comfort to millions in their darkest hours, her songs filled the nation’s hearts with hope, and her emotive performances, whether home or abroad, then or now, helped to get us through.
“It was she who chose the sentiments of her songs – she knew instinctively what people needed to hear, how to rally the morale and her spirit and strength created the soundtrack of a generation.
“There will never be another Dame Vera Lynn. Forces’ Sweetheart and our sweetheart. An icon. A legend. An inspiration. My mentor and my friend. I will miss you greatly and I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”
Dame Vera Lynn’s resurgence in her final months
Dame Vera Lynn enjoyed a resurgence during the last few months of her life as her words became a source of comfort to many during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Queen channelled the lyrics of her wartime classic when she told a nation in lockdown, separated from their families and friends, “We will meet again”.
The song had originally helped raise British spirits during the Blitz.
Dame Vera said she had been buoyed by the Queen’s words.
“I watched with the rest of the country and thought it was a great encouragement during these difficult times, but I wasn’t aware that Her Majesty would use the lyrics at the end of her speech,” she told the Radio Times.
“I support her message of keeping strong together when we’re faced with such a terrible challenge.
“Our nation has faced some dark times over the years, but we always overcome.”
She also recorded a new voiceover which addressed coronavirus for the song, to mark her 103rd birthday in March.
Dame Vera said: “We are facing a very challenging time at the moment, and I know many people are worried about the future.
“I’m greatly encouraged that despite these struggles we have seen people joining together.
“They are supporting one another, reaching into the homes of their neighbours by offering assistance to the elderly and sending messages of support and singing into the streets.
“Music is so good for the soul, and during these hard times we must all help each other to find moments of joy.”
Dame Vera and fellow singer Katherine Jenkins released a duet performance of We’ll Meet Again to raise money for staff and volunteers working on the front line of the pandemic.
The country’s celebrations of the 75th anniversary of VE Day in May also helped Dame Vera’s work to have a resurgence.
Jenkins performed We’ll Meet Again in a recorded concert in an empty Royal Albert Hall to mark the occasion.
Following the celebrations, Dame Vera became the oldest artist to score a top 40 album in the UK after a collection of her greatest hits re-entered the rankings in 30th place.