Dame Vera Lynn captured the hearts of British and Allied troops with her romantic, morale-boosting hits during World War II, and as the Forces' Sweetheart releases her new album – titled 100 to celebrate her own milestone birthday on 20 March– her proud daughter tells HELLO! that she is still as dedicated to the military as ever. Virginia Lewis-Jones, who manages her 100-year-old mother's music career and charitable work alongside volunteering at St Peter and St James Hospice near their home in Ditchling, sat down exclusively with HELLO! to share her memories of her inspirational mum.
"I'm very proud of mummy," says Virginia. "All the work she's done over the years, and her contribution to the morale of the country during wartime – and afterward, actually. She's done a tremendous amount of work since, especially with all the charities that she's involved with, including her Dame Vera Lynn Children's Charity which is very important for children with cerebral palsy, so I'm extremely proud."
Dame Vera Lynn and her daughter Virginia pictured in 1956
"I'm not quite sure what my favourite song of my mother's is," she tells us of her mother's hits, which include White Cliffs of Dover. "Obviously one thinks about We'll Meet Again, but one of my real favourites is Sailing. It's very evocative, as the others are as well, but for me Sailing is among the top." For Virginia, her mother's impact on the country was something she became aware of gradually. "I suppose I began to realise how important mummy was to her generation the older I got, as I was beginning to get into my teens. She's always been just my mother, but when I was in my teens it really sort of hit home."
"We still have a very strong link to the military," Virginia says of her family. "My husband was in the Royal Air Force, a squadron leader, and my second cousin's husband was a paratrooper. We seem to be surrounded by military! We still have very strong links with the military charities, which mummy considers very close to her and does as much as she can to promote them. Like the Gurkhas, obviously the Not Forgotten Association, The British Legion. And the Karenni [Burmese], who don't get a lot of publicity but who worked alongside with the Gurkhas and unfortunately once again have been left out of government funding and shouldn't have been because they fought alongside our chaps as well."
Dame Vera Lynn turned 100 on Monday
Last year Dame Vera was made a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour by the Queen, to celebrate 80 years of service to the entertainment industry. Now, her album 100 celebrates her best-known songs for a new generation. "We've had lots of lovely responses from mummy's fans, from eight-year-olds to nonagenarians, and people all over the world saying how wonderful she is. We even had one from Uzbekistan saying we'd love to have your book and autographed picture, and if you're passing please drop in and have a cup of tea," Virginia laughs. "And lovely letters from young children in America and all over the place, who've just heard of my mother through their own grandparents and now she's turned into their favourite recording artist."