LONDON (Reuters) – Vera Lynn, who entertained British troops during World War Two with songs that captured a longing for home and peace, was honoured on her 100th birthday on Monday with her image projected onto the iconic White Cliffs of Dover.
Known as the Forces’ Sweetheart, Lynn struck a chord with soldiers fighting overseas and with the public back in Britain with “We’ll Meet Again” and other songs that gave voice to many Britons’ hopes and fears about the conflict with Nazi Germany.
To mark her birthday, a giant image of her as a young woman was projected in the early hours of Monday from the Dover sea wall onto the White Cliffs, which are a national symbol and the subject of one of her most famous songs.
“I feel so blessed to have reached this milestone and I can’t think of a more meaningful way to mark the occasion,” Lynn said in a statement issued by Decca, her record company.
Three days before her birthday, she released “Vera Lynn 100”, a new album which includes old favourites set to new orchestral accompaniments.
One of them is the wartime hit “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover”, which looks forward to a future of peace “when the world is free”.
It has often been pointed out that bluebirds are not native to Britain, but some have interpreted the lyrics as an allusion to Royal Air Force fighter pilots in their blue uniforms.
With one of her previous albums, a “best of” compilation released in 2009, Lynn became the oldest living artist to have an album reach the number one spot in UK charts. The new album’s chart position will be known on Friday.
Lynn, the daughter of a plumber and a dressmaker, started her singing career as a child, performing in working men’s clubs. Her first solo record came out when she was 19.
She became hugely popular during the War and travelled as far afield as Egypt and Burma, now Myanmar, to perform for servicemen.
She was given the title of Dame by Queen Elizabeth in 1975.
Her last public performance was in 1995, at a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day that was held in front of Buckingham Palace with the Queen looking on, when crowds sang along with Lynn and waved British flags.
The Queen, who during World War Two learned to be a driver and a mechanic while serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, sent a 100th birthday message to Lynn.
“You cheered and uplifted us all in the War and after the War, and I am sure that this evening the blue birds of Dover will be flying over to wish you a happy anniversary,” the 90-year-old monarch wrote, according to the BBC.
The Band of the Household Cavalry, a military band, played We’ll Meet Again during the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace on Monday to mark Lynn’s birthday.
(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison)