British singer Vera Lynn, whose sentimental ballads during World War II provided the soundtrack for the Allied war effort, has died at the age of 103, according to a statement from the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity on Thursday.
Lynn, who lived in Ditchling, East Sussex, England, died Thursday morning “surrounded by her close family,” the statement posted on the charity’s website said.
Lynn’s two most famous songs, “We’ll Meet Again,” released in 1939 at the start of the war and “The White Cliffs of Dover,” recorded in 1942, created a patriotic image of a courageous and phlegmatic Britain that resonates with people in the UK even today. She was also the first English singer to make it to number one in the American music charts.
Her daughter, Virginia Lewis-Jones, said in the statement: “My mother first became involved in raising awareness of cerebral palsy in the 50s when there was very little understanding of the condition and children who suffered from motor learning difficulties were often referred to rather pejoratively as ‘spastic.’
“Along with celebrity chums including David Jacobs and Wilfred Pickles, she set out to change people’s attitudes towards the disability and help children reach their full potential. There was no one else raising funds to help at that time, so it was groundbreaking work.
“Although my mother was closely associated with other charities, not least those supporting veterans, the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity always held a very special place in her heart – the children loved her as much as she loved them and I’m extremely proud of what it has achieved and the difference it has made to so many families’ lives.”
Britain’s PA Media news agency also reports her family confirmed her death in a statement. The family said they were “deeply saddened to announce the passing of one of Britain’s best-loved entertainers.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to Lynn in a tweet: “Dame Vera Lynn’s charm and magical voice entranced and uplifted our country in some of our darkest hours. Her voice will live on to lift the hearts of generations to come.”
Captain Tom Moore, the 100-year-old war veteran who raised millions for the UK’s National Health Service, also paid tribute to Lynn, calling her death “a real shame” in a message posted on Twitter. During World War II, Moore fought in Myanmar, then known as Burma, where Lynn visited to perform for the troops.
“I really thought Vera Lynn would live longer she’s been speaking so well on TV recently. She had a huge impact on me in Burma and remained important to me throughout my life,” he said.
In 2009, Lynn became the oldest artist to have a number one album in England with “We’ll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn.” Moore recently became the oldest artist to have a number one single in the UK charts with his rendition of “You”ll Never Walk Alone,” which was released a week before his 100th birthday.
In 2017, Lynn became the oldest artist to have an album in the top ten on the British charts with “100,” which was released in honor of her 100th birthday. To celebrate that milestone birthday, her image was projected onto the White Cliffs of Dover on March 20, 2017.
Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins, who performed a virtual duet with Lynn for the VE Day anniversary last month, said in a tweet: “I simply cannot find the words to explain just how much I adored this wonderful lady.”
During her coronavirus address to the nation on April 5, Queen Elizabeth quoted Lynn’s famous wartime song, saying the UK should take comfort in the fact “better days will return, we will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again.”
Vera Margaret Welch was born in 1917 to a working class family in East Ham, now a London suburb. She began her career singing in working men’s clubs at the age of just seven. She took her grandmother’s maiden name – Lynn – as a stage name at the age of 11.
She left school when she was 14 and was spotted by a booking agent who arranged work for her at parties and events. She later started performing on the radio and released her first solo recording “Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire” in 1936.
In November 1941, Lynn was given her own radio show on the BBC, “Sincerely Yours, Vera Lynn.” She later appeared in the film “We’ll Meet Again,” in which she portrayed a character based on herself.
The “Forces’ Sweetheart” spent the spring and summer of 1944 performing for troops stationed in Egypt, India, and Burma (Myanmar).
The Royal British Legion said in a tweet on Thursday that Lynn was an “unforgettable British icon” and a “symbol of hope” for the armed forces.
Once the war ended, Lynn toured Europe and continued to broadcast her radio program. When Decca Records released her next hit, “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” in the United States in 1952, Lynn became the first English artist to hit number one on the American record charts.
Ill health dogged her later years. She developed emphysema in the latter part of the 1960s and performed less frequently. So rooted is she in the collective English psyche that the rock band Pink Floyd wrote a song about her called “Vera” on their seminal 1979 album “The Wall.”
In 1941, Lynn married a musician named Harry Lewis and the couple had one daughter together, Virginia Penelope Anne Lewis. Lynn’s husband passed away in 1998.
Lynn received many honors in her lifetime. She was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1969 and was made a Dame in the Queen’s 1975 birthday honors because of her contribution to charity.
In 2001, the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity was created to help children with cerebral palsy and other motor learning impairments.
This breaking story has been updated with additional reporting.