By Chuck Woodbury
My father was a pilot in World War II. He flew a B-24 Liberator in the 8th Air Force on 35 missions over Europe. His four engine bomber was shot down once. He landed with two engines on fire at a small airport in Belgium with only a few feet to spare when the plane finally stopped. I visited the town, Lille, once years ago to try to learn of the fate of the plane, but came up empty.
The local Underground hid the crew in a schoolhouse basement until they could be whisked away back to their base in Attlebridge, England, to fly again.
THE MOST POPULAR SINGER in those days in wartime England was Vera Lynn. I can only imagine the tears that must have flowed (or would have flowed if allowed from some of the men) from the eyes of my father and his fellow homesick flyers as they listened to her songs of romance and hope. My father spoke to me of her, and would listen to her music occasionally. But mostly I learned about her on my own.
Her wartime contribution began when she would sing to people who were using London’s tube station platforms as air raid shelters.
Vera Lynn devoted much time and energy after the war to charity work connected with ex-servicemen, disabled children and breast cancer. She was held in great affection by World War II veterans and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th century.
She died just recently, in June, at age 104. She was Dame Vera Lynn then, the title bestowed on her in 1975 by the Order of the British Empire.
I came across this short video of her performing for British troops, from the 1943 movie “We’ll Meet Again” in which she starred. It makes me sad to think about all those brave men, many of whom died in battle, and those who did survive who have now lived their lives and passed on. And it makes me sad, too, looking at Vera Lynn, the girl next door who must surely have stolen the hearts of so many servicemen.