No cultural figure has lasted the past 100 years like Dame Vera Lynn. As shown in this moving exhibit in Ditchling (her home since 1944), she was an important presence in British national history from the 1930s until her death in 2020 at the age of 103.
A 1935 concert program has an 18-year-old Lynn – “Descriptive Vocalist with Personality” – playing at the Savoy Cafe near Bishopsgate Goods Station, not far from her childhood home in East Ham. How extraordinary it is to think that she still dominated the headlines 85 years later – when the Queen quoted her most famous song, We’ll Meet Again, in its pandemic 2020 release, weeks before Lady’s death Vera.
Over 100 objects from the Forces’ Sweetheart Estate are on display, demonstrating her great talent and longevity – including a photo of her in the 1970s, laughing with Ringo Starr (The Beatles had grown up in war-scarred Liverpool, listening to his breathtaking music) and his hidden talent as a painter, in 20 still lifes and portraits, including the alluring Woman with the Gold Necklace and Red Haired Nude.
Among the most moving items on display are news footage of Dame Vera, 27, signing the slumped hats of Burma’s ‘forgotten army’ – how she cheered them up, as evidenced by letters from soldiers and of their families – and the plain khaki shirt and shorts she wore there. They are still in immaculate condition (Lynn was clearly a meticulous archivist – even the cardboard cake from her 1941 marriage to Harry Lewis has survived). His diary of his three-month Burmese tour in 1944 is also presented for the first time.
For the boys, Vera remained accessible next door despite her beauty – and glamor. Her stage outfits – from an orange feathered dress and silver star crown made by her mother seamstress in the 1920s to the war-chic austerity of her ivory wedding suit – show the understated elegance that made her feel so attractive.