Celebrating one of Britain’s most beloved performers, Dame Vera Lynn

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft is celebrating one of Britain’s most beloved performers, Dame Vera Lynn.

Dame Vera Lynn
Dame Vera Lynn

Running from January 8-April 18 2022, Dame Vera Lynn: An Extraordinary Life will showcase more than 100 objects from the estate of the Forces’ Sweetheart, including numerous previously unseen personal items.

Also unveiled is a new portrait of Dame Vera by Neil Gower, commemorating the entertainer’s life and work, and her love of Ditchling, where she lived from the 1940s until her death in 2020. 

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Spokeswoman Abby Butcher said: “Exhibiting never-before-seen objects from Dame Vera’s private collection, Dame Vera Lynn: An Extraordinary Life will offer unparalleled insight into both the public and personal life of the singer, whose songs were crucial in maintaining morale during the Second World War. 

“The exhibition will also reveal never-before-seen artworks by Dame Vera, who was an enthusiastic painter for much of her life. There will be 20 works on display, comprising portraiture and still-lifes painted at her London home, following the Second World War, and at Ditchling, where she owned a home from 1944. “The exhibition will chronicle the nine decades Dame Vera spent in the public eye, from her early days as a singer to her wartime service in the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), through to her extensive post-war entertainment career and charitable works. Extraordinary objects detailing Dame Vera’s early life as a singer and dancer include the feather dress made by her mother and the tiara she wore when performing in Madame Harris’ Kracker Kabaret Kids, the touring singing troupe she left school to join at just 11 years old. Her 1930s wage book will also be on display, alongside her adolescent ballet and tap shoes.

“A copy of a top secret instruction from King George VI for Vera Lynn to perform at the then Princess Elizabeth II’s 16th birthday in 1942 will be on display. The letter from the variety booking manager at the BBC asks Vera Lynn to secretly excuse herself from her duties at the Empire Theatre, London for the Royal Command Performance at Windsor Castle. The letter was found alongside a programme from the party, signed by the other performers who appeared. These include the comedian Tommy Handley from ITMA (It’s That Man Again radio show) and Jack Warner who was to find fame in Dixon of Dock Green. During the Second World War Dame Vera toured Egypt, India and Burma, first with the ENSA and then under the management of the army. Photographs of the young performer with troops will be on display.

“Visitors will also be able to read moving letters sent into her radio show Sincerely Yours, which connected servicemen with their loved ones at home. The show received upwards of 2,000 requests a week. 

“Dame Vera’s secret leather diary from her three-month tour through Burma in 1944 will also be shown to the public for the first time as she travelled 5,000 miles across the world in dangerous wartime conditions to perform to soldiers in the Burmese jungle.

“The Burma Star and War Medal she was awarded in 1985 for her efforts will also be on display, alongside the iconic military shorts she wore when performing to Allied troops.

“In the 1950s and 60s Dame Vera travelled the globe with her husband Harry Lewis who was her manager and daughter Virginia. Previously unseen objects from this time, including her travel trunk, travel iron and vanity case will be on display. A Super 8 movie camera and a fabulously contemporary purple dress purchased by the singer when in Honolulu, Hawaii will also be featured.

“Other highlights from Dame Vera’s wardrobe will include dresses from her countless public appearances such as one in black velvet worn in 1952 when she appeared on the front of the New Musical Express having been the first non-American artist to reach number one in the Billboard music chart in the USA. Five one-off pieces created exclusively for Dame Vera by British designer Colin Becke will also be on display. The outfits, all made in the 1950s, include corseted dresses with net skirts such as the one she wore with the hearing-impaired American singer Johnny Ray and a sequined one shoulder taffeta dress she wore with British singer Yana. A selection of Dame Vera’s accesso-ies, including handbags, gloves, hats and shoes will also be displayed.”