Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn? Remember how she said that, “We will meet again, some sunny day”?
Those are lyrics that Roger Waters wrote in The Wall. The reference is to her mega-hit “We’ll Meet Again.” Waters’ point is that his father died in World War II when Waters was less than six months old. Needless to say, they never met again, regardless of the weather.
But what Vera Lynn did was amazing. She broadcast a radio program where she performed songs that the troops requested. It reminds me very much of the end of Sullivan’s Travels. Sullivan is a famous director of comedies, but he wants to make serious films about the way life really is. So he sets out on the road, eventually finding himself imprisoned for six years for an assault. While in jail, the prisoners are allowed to see a screening of the cartoon Playful Pluto. And Sullivan realizes that when people are really suffering, they want something to make them forget their troubles.
Waters is right, however, to distinguish between those for whom pure entertainment allows them to bear the suffering they are going through, and those who don’t bear it. “We’ll Meet Again” is a nice fantasy as long as it is alive. No one wants to think of meeting again as meeting your father’s or husband’s flag draped coffin. Of course, for the Christians the allies nominally were, one can think they will meet in heaven. But that just makes it a typical story we tell children—not one for us adults. What Lynn provided was hope, even if it was a false hope.
Almost a half million of the British people died as a result of World War II. Just under 1% of the population, which was a lot better than the 2% who died in World War I, which no one can really seem to explain the reason for. And it is nothing compared to the roughly 15% of the population of the Soviet Union that died during the “Great War.” So maybe the right thing for the British to do was to keep smiling through.
Vera Lynn is 97 years old and on 2 June, she will release a new album, Vera Lynn: National Treasure—The Ultimate Collection.