Dame Vera Lynn: Sussex leads a country’s tributes to our greatest national treasure

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To a war-time generation she was the beacon that kept us fighting on against the Nazi threat.

Dubbed the ‘Forces’ Sweetheart’ she was adored by our troops on land and sea - and an entire population back at home.

Her music ‘We’ll Meet Again’, ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ and ‘There’ll Always Be An England’ were not just memorable songs - they became indelible hallmarks of hope in the darkest period of our modern day history.

Dame Vera Lynn was no mere singer or celebrity.

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Dame Vera LynnDame Vera Lynn
Dame Vera Lynn

Through her glorious talent, beauty and extraordinary modesty she defined our country and our character like no-one before her or since.

That she chose to live in the heart of Sussex was a great privilege for us all.

For Dame Vera was always putting other people first - and always those least fortunate, most vulnerable and most in need of a friend.

While the nation will remember her for her iridescent charisma, perhaps her greatest achievements were performed more quietly - through her extensive charity work not least in helping children with cerebral palsy here in Sussex.

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Dame Vera Lynn at home in Ditchling aged 97. Picture: Steve RobardsDame Vera Lynn at home in Ditchling aged 97. Picture: Steve Robards
Dame Vera Lynn at home in Ditchling aged 97. Picture: Steve Robards

Her children’s charity transformed the lives of countless young people first through its School for Parents based at Ingfield Manor School at Five Oaks near Billingshurst and subsequently when it provided services elsewhere in the county.

Born in March 1917, she was to cement her place in the nation’s collective hearts during World War II when she gave concerts for the troops in Egypt, India, and Burma as part of the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

After the war, her popularity continued to soar through her television and radio appearances. Her last single ‘I Love This Land’ marked the end of the Falklands War in the 1980s.

Yet it was her war-time numbers that continued to dominate the charts whenever an occasion of national remembrance occurred.

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Dame Vera Lynn aged 103Dame Vera Lynn aged 103
Dame Vera Lynn aged 103

How appropriate that HM The Queen should reference her most famous line ‘We’ll Meet Again’ in the conclusion to her broadcast to the people during the corona-virus lock-down just weeks ago.

Dame Vera, named in 2000 as the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th century, radiated everything that was true and good about this island people.

I had a the privilege of meeting her on a few occasions in her work for children with cerebral palsy.

Always self-deprecating and modest and generous to a fault with her quotes to her local newspapers, her passion for doing what was right shone through.

Her loss is our loss.

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We send our sincere and heartfelt condolences to her family.

And in these times of enormous social upheaval let us all pause, reflect, and take quiet comfort from her gentle strength and the enduring wisdom and hope that she imbued in the songs she bequeathed us all.