Dame Vera Lynn says she’s just an ordinary girl

Dame Vera Lynn at home in Ditchling. Photograph Steve Robards
Dame Vera Lynn at home in Ditchling. Photograph Steve Robards

Dame Vera Lynn is a superstar. She has been blessed with as much talent, success and beauty as any of the most respected celebrities in the world today, but she sees herself as ‘an ordinary girl’, and always has.

Now 97 years old and living in Ditchling in a cosy family home with her daughter Virginia, she could not be more friendly, comforting and welcoming.

As Vera looked back through photos taken in Burma during the Second World War where she risked her life to entertain and boost the morale of soldiers, she didn’t focus on the death, devastation or desperate living conditions she was exposed to.

“It was wonderful, I felt like I was doing a little bit for the war effort,” she said.

The camps she lived in had barely any food, no electricity, and sometimes no beds.

“It was just primitive,” she explained.

“There was nothing glamorous about it. I took a party dress, but I was unable to wear it because of the mosquitos.

“I had to perform in khaki trousers and shirts, if I had my sleeves up the boys would walk past and say ‘roll your sleeves down Vera!’”

The iconic singer ate mostly rice, and ‘a little bit of goat’.

“I loved the little grass shacks, we slept on anything we could take,” she said.

“I remember sleeping on a hammock in the monsoon, everything was flooded, you couldn’t sleep on a bed as there were no foundations to the huts.”

Vera was known as ‘the girl next door’ by the soldiers, who she befriended in an attempt to raise morale and keep them connected with their country.

“They all knew who I was, but they never thought of me as being a glamorous film star, I was just an ordinary girl, a down to earth contact,” Vera explained.

She fondly scanned a photo of her standing in Burma, surrounded by soldiers, holding wild flowers which they gathered for her from the jungle.

She visited Burma, Egypt and India during WW2 to entertain soldiers and deliver messages from families.

Vera also sent messages to servicemen living abroad with her radio show Sincerely Yours during WW2.

But she took it upon herself to see the war effort first hand, and there is no hint of regret or self pity when she describes the life she lived:

Vera said: “I used to go round the casualty and clearing stations to see the boys.

“I saw them when they were being treated and about to be sent out of the jungle to a proper hospital.

“People were being taken from the front, where they had been fighting, on stretchers.”