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Forces sweetheart Vera Lynn reveals her heartbreaking World War Two experiences as she turns 100

Mirror logo Mirror 21/03/2017 Emily Retter
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Dame Vera Lynn laughs when she is asked what turning 100 feels like. “Old!” she says. “Old in body, but young at heart.”

Our most cherished Second World War veteran might be frailer these days.

But the sparkle that lifted the troops ’ spirits shows no sign of diminishing before her birthday on Monday.

“I can’t drink champagne now,” she admits. “I’ll be drinking lemonade with a dash of red wine to celebrate.”

To mark the milestone, the Forces’ Sweetheart is releasing an album with Alfie Boe and Alexander Armstrong, setting a new record for the one she already holds.

Credits: Daily Mirror © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Daily Mirror In 2014, at 97, she was the oldest person ever to release an album.

Dame Vera was catapulted to fame by wartime ballads such as We’ll Meet Again and The White Cliffs of Dover.

But it was also her bravery that ­established her as a national treasure.

Dame Vera recalls driving in her Austin 10 to gigs as bombs fell across London. She says: “It had a soft canvas roof. That’s why I always carried a tin helmet with me.”

Once it overturned, she says. “People righted it and I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to be on my way.’ But I’d broken the axle.”

Credits: Daily Mirror © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Daily Mirror On the day peace was declared she was sent to entertain troops in Germany fresh from liberating Nazi death camps.

She remembers: “They took me around the ovens. I saw the gas chambers. They were like a row of garages with steel doors. No birds were flying. They said gas was still in the air.”

In 1944, she was embedded in the Burmese jungle. Speaking at her home in East Sussex, surrounded by memorabilia, she explains she felt it was her duty to go.

“Generally, nobody was going to Burma. Some were visiting cities, but no one was going into the jungle.

“But I was so well looked after that I really never considered what I was doing would put me in any danger.

“The appreciation I received just for being there was something that has remained special to me my whole life.”

Credits: Daily Mirror © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Daily Mirror Dame Vera was born Vera Welch on March 20, 1917, in East Ham, East London. It soon became apparent to her docker dad and ­dressmaker mum she had talent.

DV recalls: “I first sang on a table in a working men’s club when I was five or six. I had a dress on, and my dolly was wearing a matching one. I sang Glad Rag Doll, with actions.”

In those early years she didn’t like performing, but it was a way for the family to boost the household income.

She adds: “There were weekends when I could almost make in two nights what my father made in a week.”

Dame Vera left school at 14 and worked in a button factory – for one day – before touring with bands.

She sang on the radio with the Joe Loss Orchestra and in 1936 released her first single, Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire.

Credits: Hulton Archive © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Hulton Archive Dame Vera was invited to Windsor to perform at Princess Elizabeth’s 17th birthday, and always remained close to the Queen Mother. She was soon earning enough to buy a home for her family, with an inside toilet.

In 1941 she was given a radio show, Sincerely Yours. Soldiers hid radios in haystacks while fighting to listen in.

She also visited maternity hospitals, recording new mums who wanted to send messages to husbands abroad.

© Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Despite her popularity, at one point the BBC tried to ban her form of ­sentimental singing because they feared it would make troops homesick.

She says: “The anti-slush fight was quite fierce. Some of the critics were very hurtful but it’s amusing now.” In 1941 she married musician Harry Lewis. They shared a happy life together until his death in 1998.

Dame Vera calls their daughter Virginia, born after the war, one of her “greatest achievements”.

DV went on to become the first British star to top the US charts with Auf Wiederseh’n, Sweetheart in 1952.

For 50 years after the war she made radio and television shows, recorded albums and toured the world, and was made a dame in 1975.

She established the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity in 2001. And it is her charity work – not her wartime bravery – for which she wants to be remembered.

“I’d love it to be my legacy,” she says. “I’ve never considered my actions as courageous. I was just doing my job.”

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