How cheering to see the white cliffs of Dover lit up with the image of Dame Vera Lynn, to mark her 100th birthday. In her honour, I went and bought her “new” CD, Vera Lynn 100, just issued by Decca at £9.99.
She is the first artiste ever to have a CD issued on her 100th birthday, but wisely Dame Vera has not chosen to sing for her centenary – even the greatest voices must deteriorate with age. The “new” CD is really a remastering of Dame Vera in her prime, but supplemented by some fine orchestration, and sometimes accompanied by other singers. Alfie Boe duets with the wartime recording of Dame Vera in We’ll Meet Again. Aled Jones is her singing partner in As Time Goes By and Cynthia Erivo joins her in When You Wish Upon a Star. Alexander Armstrong accompanies her in the celebrated (There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover.
The CD is faultlessly produced, a listening pleasure and a comforting evocation of more innocent times. Vera Lynn had a voice of crystalline lucidity and her wartime specials are hugely nostalgic. The brave hopes of We’ll Meet Again are all the more moving because people knew they might never meet again in this world.
At the beginning of World War II, the BBC was reluctant to play the Vera Lynn songs because they were worried it might make soldiers overseas so nostalgic for home that they’d become “too sentimental” to fight.
And Dame Vera herself never forgot those who were doing their duty in uniform. When complimented on her birthday honours, she said: “As we look to the white cliffs [on her birthday on Monday], I will be thinking of our brave boys – the cliffs were the last thing they saw before heading off to war, and for those fortunate enough to return, the first thing they saw upon returning home.”
The white cliffs of Dover have been a symbol of freedom and refuge for many generations fleeing bad times. Let’s hope they remain a symbol of a decent England with compassion for persecuted refugees.
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