East Ham born Dame Vera Lynn is 100-years-old today
PUBLISHED: 06:30 20 March 2017
Newham’s most famous daughter is 100-years-old today.
On her special day, children from Dame Vera’s old school, Brampton Primary in East Ham, will sing a medley of hits to her in a live link up.
She will also enjoy a birthday tea with close family and open the mountain of mail from well-wishers from around the world.
And on Saturday, a tribute concert in aid of the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity - produced by son-in-law Tom Jones, granddaughter Tesni Jones and friend Annie Riley - entertained audiences both young and old to mark the big day.
The London Palladium show’s opening included a recreation of one of the singer’s earliest memories - singing My Rag Doll on top of a table dressed to look just like the dolly she held during the childhood performance.
Almost a century later, a host of children opened the show singing and dancing to the same tune.
Reflecting on her 100th year - which was also marked with the release of a new album Vera Lynn: 100 on Friday - Susan Fleet, a friend of 20 years, said Dame Vera looks back on her life “with enormous gratitude” and feels “lucky on reaching a hundred”.
Known as the “forces sweetheart” Dame Vera wowed audiences the world over with her inspiring lyrics and unique voice, but it all began in East Ham on March 20, 1917 with the birth of Vera Welch to parents Bertram and Annie.
Recalling her East Ham upbringing, Dame Vera told the Recorder: “I had a very happy childhood.
“One of my earliest memories was my father singing at home. He had a lovely voice. When I bought my first house, my father sang I Wouldn’t Leave My Little Wooden Hut for You in my garden
“There was no TV so we made our own entertainment,” she added, also recalling her mother’s love of cooking.
A talent from her earliest years, Dame Vera, whose hits include We’ll Meet Again, There’ll Always Be An England and The White Cliffs of Dover, remembered learning tap dance at home from a man called Pat Barry on a purpose made mat as well as lots of family parties where she started singing.
Adopting her grandmother Margaret’s maiden name, Lynn, at the age of 11, Dame Vera’s first public performance was at the age of seven when she began touring working men’s clubs.
By the Second World War, the star was entertaining troops in far off India, Egypt and Burma, putting her own safety at risk as one of the few performers entering war zones to raise morale.
Susan said: “The thing she is most proud of is going to Burma. At that time nobody was going into the jungle, but she wanted to. She wanted to tell the men they weren’t forgotten. She said it was probably the highlight of her life.”
The singer’s fearlessness continued back at home with Dame Vera ignoring advice not to drive home after shows during the Blitz.
“She said if there was a bomb up there with her name on it, she was going to get it wherever it was,” the public relations managing director, said.
After the war, Dame Vera hosted her own television show and set up her own charity to support children with cerebral palsy.
“It was something people didn’t talk about,” Susan said. “She’s passionate about it. When you see her with children with cerebral palsy her face just radiates.”
Paying tribute, she added: “She’s just a lovely person. Warm, kind, caring, compassionate and very humble. Her voice touches the heart. Music touches the soul and hers most certainly does.”
Now among the ranks of centenarians who survived the war, when asked what younger generations could learn from hers, Dame Vera said: “Coping with shortages, sharing and pulling together.”
“She’s a very, very special lady,” Susan added.