Happy Birthday Dame Vera Lynn, 100 years old today 20 March 2017, from all at the World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo.
I watched an excellent new BBC documentary at the weekend shown to mark Dame Vera Lynn’s 100th Birthday on 20 March 2017. Many famous people and Burma veterans talked about their personal connection with Vera Lynn and her music in person or through her radio broadcasts.
I was very happy to see a brief momentary glimpse in Vera’s post-war home movies of her family garden and orchard.
Dame Vera Lynn has long been a treasured part of my family memories, growing up with wartime evacuee parents who played many of the old wartime songs.
Little did I realise until I started the World War Zoo Gardens project at Newquay Zoo back in 2008/9 that my late Mum would reveal a strange wartime connection to Vera Lynn, that she had had as a tiny and unhappy evacuee in Ditchling, Sussex where Dame Vera Lynn lived:
I was very proud to show Mum a copy of the book when this experience of Mum’s was briefly written up in Duff Hart-Davis’ Our Land At War.
Last year my brothers scattered Mum’s ashes from Ditchling Beacon out over the Sussex countryside where Mum had lived as an evacuee and had been an unwilling look out for an evacuee scrumping gang in Vera Lynn’s orchard.
Coming from similar parts of London and not that far apart in age, Mum and Vera Lynn also had a few spoken phrases in common, that watching Vera Lynn interviewed reminds me of my late Mum.
Whilst I never planted an apple tree in the World War Zoo Gardens wartime allotment, we now have two container planted English apple trees in my home garden, one named Vera and the other named after my Mum.
This Vera Lynn story is a family one with photos that I tell school children who are visiting Newquay Zoo for our Wartime Zoo / Life schools workshop.
Whilst we tend to think of Dame Vera singing to servicemen, she also had an important role through her radio broadcasts in the lives of wartime women, at home and in the services. She wrote a fabulous book about it, Unsung Heroines, cleverly titled, alongside her own autobiography Some Sunny Day.
Vera Lynn, The Forgotten Army and the Burma Star
Dame Vera Lynn is much praised for her front line ENSA concerts to the Forgotten Army in Burma, where many of the proud Burma Star veterans had served that I was privileged to meet at Newquay Zoo one day.
Sadly my wartime zoo researches also reveal that some of the London Zoo and Kew and Melbourne Botanic Gardens staff serving in the Far East never survived, dying in the Burma and Singapore jungles or in the infamous Far East Prisoner of War camps:
I believe that my navy grandfather helped transport many of these skeletal POW survivors home on his aircraft carrier. My Mum did not see him for most of / during the War due to her evacuation and his naval service.
Dame Vera will be much in the thoughts today of many of the Burma Star veterans like those interviewed for the BBC programme at the weekend.
Happy 100th Birthday Dame Vera Lynn! May you have good health and many more birthdays!
Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo, Cornwall.
and a link to Dame Vera’s special charity https://dvlcc.org.uk/