Dame Vera ponders fate of soldiers

Dame Vera Lynn has told how she still thinks about the soldiers she met during the Second World War and whether they returned home safely.

Dame Vera Lynn volunteered to sing to the troops fighting in Egypt, India and Burma
Dame Vera Lynn volunteered to sing to the troops fighting in Egypt, India and Burma

The Forces' Sweetheart, 97, who volunteered to sing to the troops fighting in Egypt, India and Burma in 1944, said that these days she cannot attend commemorations, such as the 70th anniversary of D-Day, as she can no longer get around easily.

But talking about the soldiers she met in Burma, when she was just 27, she told Radio Times magazine: "I always wonder how many of these boys came back.

"What I really liked was just having a chat with them after I sang. I wasn't separate to them. I lived in a tent like they did, with one bucket for washing and one for the toilet. I was one of them. They knew me.

"I'd go round the casualty tents where the wounded were brought in before they'd go to a proper hospital. I'd sit on one of the beds and hold their hands. They'd ask me how everyone was coping at home. I'd always say, 'We're fine'.

"They'd ask me to sing to them, and I would. I could see they were badly injured but we never spoke of that. I tried not to show my emotions but it was very moving."

The star, who is releasing a new album, National Treasure, to mark the anniversary of the D-Day landings in June, added: "I wanted to go where no-one else went, where it was most needed."

She said: "I never thought the Forces' Sweetheart tag would stay with me, but it has, hasn't it?

"I thought it would last for the war period, then I'd just be another singer. Of course I've never minded that everybody always connects me with that time. It was so important."

Five years ago, Dame Vera was still living independently, travelled regularly, and enjoyed cooking, gardening and driving, but t oday she struggles with deafness and is less mobile.

"I can't get to the commemorations any more as it's not easy for me to get around, but I'll watch them all on television," she said.

"My thoughts will be with the families of the boys who didn't come back. I was so lucky not to lose those closest to me."

This year, Dame Vera also celebrates 90 years as a performer, having delivered her first song on stage at the age of seven.

I n 2009 she became the oldest living artist to have a No 1 album.

Asked whether she was glad to have reached 97 when many people fear old age, she replied. "Of course. Why would I not be? I never dwelt on it. You are what you are. You're thankful you have survived."

She added: "I'm not really frightened of anything. I've always been very optimistic and forward-looking. I still am."

She said of being sent to Germany to play for the troops liberating the death camps: "Yes, it was demanding, but you overcome these things. I could be tough, if it was necessary."

Dame Vera said of coping without her husband Harry Lewis, who died in 1998: "Nobody gets through life without sadness. Naturally you lose people along the way. He wasn't ill for long. He had a heart attack. I think of him every day. He was the love of my life."