So, farewell to our most illustrious resident, yet that was not the image she projected had you met her in Ditchling. I remember being in the old Sandrock pub with her on one occasion surrounded by WW2 generation visitors from all over the world and thinking 'if you did but know who's sitting here among you...!'. She had no airs and graces, she was the most ordinary person and in saying that I am paying her a profound compliment.
Until late in life she was an active member of the community. She was a regular attender of the biennial fair sometimes opening it and more frequently being a judge in the best-dressed float competition and she used her contacts to invite well-known people, such as June Whitfield, to come to it. She was happy for others to use her presence to get much-needed publicity such as when she agreed to cut the tape to open the new Chesterton's shop.
Ditchling History Project has an interview with her in its oral history archive. Perhaps the most surprising thing we learnt was that she had never learnt to read music - 'I just know instinctively what note comes next'. And she kindly loaned some of her WW2 possessions to a Museum exhibition curated by the History project. Perhaps the most surprising exhibits were the male khaki shorts she borrowed from a soldier to wear in Burma – “two sizes too large for my waist” – and the clandestine notebook/diary she kept briefly recording where she'd been and where she was going - “strictly prohibited in case we were captured and it revealed things useful to the enemy!”
Her song “We'll Meet Again” has received a lot of publicity recently. What perhaps has not been mentioned is that she took time off performances to rally the troops to visit a hospital in Burma and sing it at the bedside of some severely ill soldiers, only one of whom was subsequently to survive.
Our thoughts and sympathy are with Virginia, her daughter and her husband Tom. They would never have met had it not been for Dame Vera's community spirit. One Remembrance Day the RAF sent a huge Chinook helicopter, piloted by Tom, to take Dame Vera and Virginia from the field behind her house to a parade in the west country so that she could be back in time for events in Ditchling.
If you too have fond memories of Dame Vera Lynn, please contact us ... we would love to hear from you.