Vera Lynn Remembered by Richard Anderson
Dame Vera Lynn remembered
Richard Anderson (M. 67-71) recalls a memorable meeting with Dame Vera Lynn
I was fortunate to meet Dame Vera in 1977 at Woolwich , East London. I was a serving Gunner Officer with the Depot Regiment which was stationed at the historic barracks that was ‘home’ of the Royal Artillery.
In late summer 1977 it was decided to hold a pageant on the front parade and the highlight of the event was an appearance of Dame Vera. Prior to this we would show off some of our equipment and a few battle scenes and then there was to be a beating of the retreat and sunset ceremony.
I had been detailed off to look after Dame Vera and her husband Harry for the event. I was to meet them at the guard room and accompany them and to follow a detailed programme for the afternoon and evening.
They arrived on time in a silver Rolls- Royce, driven by Harry. The first thing that struck me was how small he was. He could hardly see over the dashboard of the Rolls! Dame Vera was exactly as I expected. She was very sociable but Harry, as her manager, wanted all the exact details of the rehearsal and the event and was very persistent! In fact, he was a total pain!
After a cup of tea in the mess we went straight out to the rehearsal to practice her part on the front parade. The idea was that Dame Vera would sing while seated in the cupola of a Quad which was towing a limber and 25 pounder gun. This wonderful piece of World War 2 history was owned by the Royal Artillery wing of the Driving and Maintenance School at Bovingdon and was in beautiful condition. The idea was that Dame Vera would get into the Quad inside the barracks and it would then drive under the Grand Arch and onto the front parade.
We went and examined the Quad and the first problem was how to get her seated on the roof with her legs dangling through the cupola. Dame Vera was all for it but Harry declared that this was not going to happen!
The second problem, which we had been assured was not a problem ,was the microphone system. The Quad was to drive onto the square with Dame Vera singing and this would be piped through the main speaker system. The Royal Artillery Band would provide the music and they were static in front of the main building.
Having got Dame Vera through the cupola we then had to rig up the microphone and get her connected to the radio system, to play over the main speakers. We were expecting large crowds for the performance and stands ran along the grass facing the front parade. The speaker system extended along the whole front parade, so we wanted everyone to be able to hear her performance. We also wanted everyone to see her so the quad would drive up and down the square. Nothing worked during the rehearsal, but we were promised that it would all be fine by the performance. Dame Vera took it all in her stride, but Harry was not happy, and everyone knew it!
The pageant all went well and when the time came to get Dame Vera into the Quad it was now dusk and had turned quite cold. Dame Vera asked for a rug but I suggested that I get my Mess kit dress cape which was black with a red silk lining as it would look great with her wearing it in the spotlight. We got her into position and the cape was a big success and she was handed her radio microphone. At the given moment the band started up with her signature tune ‘We’ll meet Again’ and the Quad started up and revved to get going up the slope leading to the Grand Arch. The noise was so great that Dame Vera was unable to hear the band so there was total confusion! The quad appeared and the singing commenced but as she headed down the square the time lapse grew greater and so the singing was not in time with the music. This was not such a disaster as it sounds because the radio microphone was now too far away and was not transmitting Dame Vera’s singing anyway! Also, the crowd roared with approval, so nobody realised that the system was not working! Dame Vera pulled it off like a true professional and as she came back nearer the centre the time lapse disappeared and she was back in range of the radio mic. she could also hear the band. The Quad revved away happily and everyone was overcome with a wave of emotion at Dame Vera ,sitting in the spotlight , won the crowd over and did a medley of songs that ended a very special evening. I remember thinking how great she was, and I would always remember that enchanting night of her sitting on a piece of Gunner history in my striking cape. Sadly, I never saw it again!
Dame Vera must have had many such events during her many years of support to the Armed Services and she would probably never remember a single performance at Woolwich as being any different from the thousands of others. I, however, have always remembered it and from then on took a great interest in her life and all that she had achieved.
Dame Vera was a real ‘trooper’ and she made a huge impact during her long life.
Richard Anderson (M.67-71)