I contacted Dame Vera to thank her for her kind wedding wishes from 2012 and to ask whether she would honour me with a quick interview via letter. I didn’t expect answers to all of my questions and certainly didn’t expect her reply so promptly! So here it is for you dear readers…
I know the darling Swingtime Sweethearts very well and know how lovely the girls are! How did you feel recording with them for the charity single? “I didn’t record with the Swingtime Sweethearts, my voice was taken from an existing recording.”
What a shame, I presumed it was recorded for the CD! So could I ask you…I always imagine you singing around the house or whilst washing up; do you still sing and do you have any hobbies? “I have never sung around the house, my hobbies used to be gardening and painting, but neither of these I do very much of at the moment.”
What was the most requested song you were ever asked to sing? “We’ll Meet Again was the most requested”
You secretly kept a diary whilst touring in WW2 (not technically allowed, but fantastic that you did!). Have you ever thought about making it into a book? I’m sure a lot of us would love to hear of your experiences! “I have never considered writing my experiences during the war as they are not very interesting. As I was not allowed to keep a diary, they are not very detailed.”
You travelled to Egypt, India and Burma with ENSA (Indeed you received the Burma Star in 1985 for entertaining the troops there). What was your most memorable experience of entertaining during the war? “Visiting the wounded in a hospital in Burma.” “One boy said to me…England doesn’t seem so far away now you’re here” (2010 TV interview)
There has been some speculation that you did not get on with Gracie Fields. This was also made apparent in BBC4’s biopic drama ‘Gracie!’ starring Jane Horrocks. Would you like to put any rumours to bed? “I only met Gracie Fields once and that was at a charity concert. She was very nice and we had a talk, but that was all.”
I thought it may be tabloid hokum! It’s always better to ask than presume! You had some fabulous gowns for your television and press appearances. Were they yours? Have you kept any of them? “My clothes were made for TV and I haven’t kept any of them!”
*short interlude whilst I lie on the floor and calm myself*
How did it feel to be so admired by the troops and the fact that you are still looked upon as the original ‘Forces Sweetheart’ of Great Britain? “I am very proud to be called the Forces Sweetheart”
Daughter of a plumber and dressmaker, you actually started singing at the bonny age of 7 at a working men’s club. You also left school at a young age also? “I left school at 14, which was the usual age to leave at the time. I sang my first concert at the age of 7 and I had an uncle who was a professional comic! So in a way you can say I started young…”
You married the dashing and talented Harry Lewis in 1941. Harry was in the RAF No.1 Band, later known as the Squadronaires, and played the saxophone and clarinet. Did you ever sing with the band? “I think I sang with the Squadronaires once for a charity”
I later found out that this was at the band’s first ever concert in Blackpool!
I am part of a large collection of people that represent certain iconic aspects of the 1940’s. You yourself have been to such events as The War and Peace Show in years past, but what do you think of WW2 reenactors? Do you think it is important or just a strange hobby? “If people continue to do this, it will keep the memory of the war years alive.”
And lastly, my favourite songs that you sang are ‘When I Grow Too Old To Dream’ and ‘White Cliffs of Dover,’ What are your particular favourites? “We’ll Meet Again’ and the ‘White Cliffs of Dover”
Thank you once again to Dame Vera for her lovely letter and may we wish her all the love and luck in the world.