Dame Vera Lynn’s new book Keep Smiling Through: My Wartime Story is published today by Century. Vera turned 100 earlier this year and I have been fortunate enough to work with her and her daughter Virginia Lewis-Jones in telling the remarkable story of her visit to entertain the troops in Burma in 1944.
Her visit coincided with the turning point in the war in the Far East and she was close to the front as the pivotal battles of Kohima and Imphal were being fought. Vera had just turned twenty-seven, and had only been out of the country once before, but she wanted to do ‘her bit’ to help.
This book tells her story but also the story of many of the servicemen who met her and heard her sing. They were in many cases highly charged, emotional moments, as troops came away from ferocious fighting in the malaria-ridden jungle to hear a beautiful female voice from home sing messages that felt to them had been sent directly from their wives, sweethearts and mothers. Vera not only sang, but chatted to the soldiers and toured makeshift hospital wards, speaking to men who were very badly wounded and in a lot of pain. It is no exaggeration to say that in many cases they regarded her as an angel.
As well as the personal stories, the book also gives a lot of background to the wider campaign in Burma and tells the story of how the fortunes of the Fourteenth army were transformed under the legendary, straight-talking, square-jawed, soldier’s soldier, General ‘Bill’ Slim.
At the time of writing, Vera is the best-selling female artist of 2017 in terms of album sales; wouldn’t it be an amazing thing if she could top the charts for both music and books in her centenary year?