This is our truth, tell us yours
No, not that Vera. Not the one with the church bazaar dress sense, the tourist board approved shots of Northumberland and this year’s winner of the Robson Green Memorial Award for most theatrical north east accent.
This Vera. The singer of saccharine flavoured sentimental ballads who made her name during World War Two and has profited ever since from the English obsession with that tiny fragment of their past. Vera Lynn was 100 this week, and once again, we had to hear the same tropes, about how she was the forces sweetheart, and the power of her songs, and all the other sentimental halftruths that add up to her personal brand.
That she was being lionized in the same week as the English FA apologized to the German FA about the songs celebrating World War Two being sung by English fans at the recent match captures beautifully the hypocrisy and blinkered vision of the English about themselves. Apparently it is entirely right that we should celebrate a not enormously talented singer of songs so cloying they would have any reasonable person retching into a convenient aspidistra, but unacceptable to sing the kind of songs more likely to have been sung by the soldiers whose sweetheart she allegedly was.
It’s more likely, of course, as Orwell records in The Lion and The Unicorn*, that the kind of woman the average soldier was dreaming of was more down to earth and somewhat less wholesome than Dame Vera. Dame Vera’s pre-eminence was manufactured, a part of a vision of middle Englishness, not too highbrow, squeaky clean, and focussed on the shires. That vision of Englishness was promoted then, and persists in the English right wing memory that feeds the racism of English football fans and English popular culture.
*Orwell recorded a marching song, ‘I Don’t Want To Join The Army’ wich oncludedthe couplet ‘I’d rather hang around Piccadilly underground/ Living off the earnings of a high class lady…’