Why we must be as resolute as Dame Vera Lynn’s generation: Christa Ackroyd

Dame Vera Lynn symbolised light in the darkest of days.

Dame Vera Lynn, who died this week aged 103, was an inspirational figure. (Credit: Shaun Curry/Getty Images).

During the Second World War, she travelled thousands of miles across dangerous skies to entertain the troops and visit our wounded soldiers in field hospitals all over the world.

Her magnificent voice soothed a generation fighting to remain free. She brought hope to millions who feared they would never see their loved ones again, and that would have been her epitaph had her most famous song not become an anthem for our times, too.

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Dame Vera’s last performance was just a few weeks ago when, through the wonders of modern technology, she appeared in a virtual duet with Katherine Jenkins for the 75th anniversary of VE Day, to sing We’ll Meet Again in an eerily empty Royal Albert Hall.

Many millions of us, then at the height of lockdown, played that song, waved our Union flags and wept as we remembered those who sacrificed their lives for ours, while at the same time thinking of those fighting on a different kind of frontline today.

What could have been seen in these modern times as a sentimental ditty about bluebirds and sunny days and smiling through once more, resonated in our fight against an unseen enemy every bit as deadly as the visible one the nation was embroiled in when Dame Vera first sang the song.

Covid-19 has killed as many civilians as the number who died on these shores when our country was being bombarded by the Nazis, led by a tyrant and a racist who would have destroyed all that we love and cherish. As she sang, a nation was soothed, daring to believe that one day it would all be over. As we dare to do now. We’ll meet again some sunny day.

This week, I dedicate my column to the many millions for whom those lyrics still cut like a knife. As life seems to be getting back to a degree of normality for some, there are others who fear they may never meet loved ones again who are shielding either in care or at home, many of whom are of an age to remember the time when Dame Vera was in her pomp.

I am reminded, also, of all those who were unable to say goodbye when their beloved family members died, something that must have been every bit as heartbreaking as when we waved off our soldiers, sailors and airmen not knowing if they would return.

I also weep for a young generation wondering when they will meet their school friends again. Those who are expected to pick up the pieces of their young lives with their remotely awarded GCSEs and A-Levels, and venture out into a world which feels every bit as uncertain as it did all those years ago. We will be victorious eventually, but it will still come at a price – a price we will be paying for years.

Today, there are thousands of people that homeless charities fear are being dumped on the streets, either from prison or having slipped through the net and are once again rough sleeping or begging for help, something that happened to some of our anguished war veterans for all their courage and medals.

There are millions who have lost their jobs, or will lose them in the coming months and can see no blue skies in their future, just as those who survived the Second World War came home to a shattered country forever changed and economically bankrupt.

The separated children and their grandparents, who may live just around the corner, have felt as far away as the little evacuees who were sent off with their suitcases and tearful goodbyes all those years ago. Oh, how we have missed those hugs. As did they.

We must pledge to help each other pick up the pieces, as our parents and grandparents did 75 years ago. If Dame Vera described herself as the girl next door, we must never forget how much we came to rely on the girl, or boy, next door for our food and deliveries. They did it because they cared.

Who would have thought rationing would have become part of our modern day history? But it did. Swap sugar for toilet rolls. And who would have thought that ordinary men and women would once again be recognised as the true heroes in a world which has for far too long embraced celebrity and fame? The community spirit we thought belonged to Dame Vera’s era has been reborn and must not be lost again. I only hope we are as resolute as the generation for whom Dame Vera sang her heart out all those years ago. I believe we are. The signs of goodness and kindness are there.

Amid the chaos this week a black man, in the heat of racial hatred, picked up a white man on his broad shoulders and carried him to safety. A footballer, in a sport much maligned for its selfish excesses, fought for those he once lived amongst, the poor and the vulnerable, and won. These two men alone were enough to make me proud to be British this week and they give me hope. They had one thing in common and it wasn’t the colour of their skin. It was their humility. Dame Vera Lynn’s passing has reminded us there were heroes then as there are now. They have simply swapped their gas masks for face masks.

So Boris, you do not need to spend £1m on repainting your plane with a Union flag. Your decision was ill-timed and insensitive when so many face the fight to put food on the table and rekindle hope in their hearts. Before we even start thinking of flying the flag abroad we must fly the flag at home.

We must take care of each other and promise never to forget those who we will not meet again, and who, like the generation that Dame Vera Lynn sang for, have also paid a terrible price, and made the ultimate sacrifice.

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James Mitchinson

Editor