Like all perfect pop songs, We’ll Meet Again has become something more than itself. This undoubtedly meant so much to millions of women and men, in uniform or in civilian clothes, because they were faced with situations that are unimaginable to us, even today. This most popular version of the song is swapped in the deeply touching section in which Lynn’s voice is joined by a military choir.
Yet, as the generation that waged the war died, a romantic view of the conflict became a weapon in the construction of the myth of a brave Britain, fighting alone against Nazi enemies. Britain in 1940 was not at all alone, with the resources of an empire behind it, but that hardly serves the evocative tale of war that formed the heart of so much talk around Brexit and the war cultural today. There are many examples: Matt Hancock, now the UK health minister, invoked D-Day in a speech to launch his aborted Tory leadership campaign, and “Brexit day” in January, the Daily Mail printed an image in front page of the white cliffs of Dover. , immortalized in another of Vera Lynn’s wartime successes. In recent weeks, the tediously polarized argument about Churchill’s legacy has become linked to discussions about the monuments of our imperial past.
This jingoism has often been used as a smokescreen for the government’s incompetence over the coronavirus, and Lynn, the “darling of forces,” has not been immunized. On May 28, the Sun released a front page with the headline “Ale Meet Again” over a photo of Boris Johnson wielding a pint. On the same day, it was announced that the official death toll from Covid-19 had reached 37,837, more than the number of Londoners killed by the Germans during the entire Second World War.
I wonder now, thinking about Vera Lynn’s life, if she was still completely comfortable with the song that followed her until the end of her 103 years. After all, when she appeared in the 1972 Christmas special Morecambe & Wise (and Morecambe mistook it for Gracie Fields), she refused to sing. As comedian Barry Cryer later recalled, Wise said, “Vera doesn’t know we want her to sing. How can we blackmail her? with Morecambe responding, “Unless I start another war, I have no idea. A comedy sketch, yes, but there can be a core of truth. For Lynn and Britain, the war is never over.
In 1952, she became the first Briton to have a US No. 1 with Auf Wiederseh’n, Sweetheart; 30 years later, his single I Love This Land was released when martial fervor was again fueled by the Falklands War. In 2009, as Britain broke free from austerity, it became the oldest person to have a No. 1 album with a compilation of his hits titled, of course, we’ll see you again. As the UK struggled in the post-Brexit turmoil in November 2018, the choral group D-Day Darlings – Britain’s Got Talent finalists – reached No. 5 with an album with cover of We will see each other again, a illustrated singers dressed in the 1940s. RAF uniforms. All tribute to the dead had turned into a sticky and nostalgic martial fetish.
Throughout her post-war career, Lynn’s fame was trapped in symbiosis with the anguish of a nation in decline, doomed forever to look back into the past, when Britain had its “Best time”. Coincidentally, his death comes 80 years to the day since Churchill gave the speech in which he coined this term.
Pop as well as we will see each other will always have a presence – it provides gravity to any cause. Perhaps the most powerful use of the song is found in Stanley Kubrick’s still current Dr. Strangelove, while in the final scene it drifted wildly across a world that disappears in atomic fire. The version used by Kubrick also includes a soldiers choir and listening to it now, I think not only of the long life of Vera Lynn, but of the millions of men and women from Great Britain and elsewhere to whom she gave so much hope, and whose memory we now see being so terribly mistreated.