History

Dame Vera Lynn: An extraordinary life on display

The Forces' Sweetheart's personal items give a unique insight into her life.

Dame Vera Lynn's secret diary, in which she noted down memories of her three-month tour of Burma in 1944, is among the items being shown to the public for the first time in a new exhibition celebrating the extraordinary life of the Forces' Sweetheart.

The new exhibition at The Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft showcases more than 100 previously unseen personal items including the Burma Star she was awarded in April 1985, the simple suit and cardboard cake from her wedding to Harry Lewis in 1941, her works of art and diary.

Stephanie Fuller, Director at The Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, of which Dame Vera Lynn was Patron, spoke to BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster Natasha Reneaux (audio above) about the new exhibition, which explores the Forces Sweetheart's life through hundreds of her personal items, including the diary.

Stephanie said: It's a tiny little appointment diary and she wasn't supposed to record anything for security reasons, but she did write these terse little entries."

Dame Vera Lynn Exhibition Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft Picture Sam Moore
Dame Vera Lynn Exhibition at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft (Picture: Sam Moore).

The briefly written lines reveal what life was like for the 27-year-old performer who, as Stephanie explains, had only left the country once before to go to Belgium. In the diary, she writes of the intense heat, basic travel conditions and the places she stayed.

Stephanie said:  "She slept on a stretcher propped up between two chairs and things like that. 

"There were lots of insects, she got bitten a lot, the food was horrible. 

"It was the same food the troops were eating and it doesn't sound like it was very nice at all."

The exhibition has unique items on display including her wedding suit and cardboard cake which was a substitute for the real thing due to rationing during the Second World War – a common practise at the time.

There are also hundreds of letters written to Dame Vera on display, several of which are from people who listened to her radio show, 'Sincerely Yours'. They would write to her and request songs that reminded them of their loved ones.

Dame Vera Lynn Exhibition Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft Picture Sam Moore
Dame Vera Lynn Exhibition at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft (Picture: Sam Moore).

Other interesting items on display in the exhibition celebrating her illustrious career include a variety of exquisite gowns, gold discs, photographs of Dame Vera with service personnel and celebrities plus the shirt and shorts she wore to perform to Allied troops during her tour of Burma in 1944.

Stephanie said:  "When we were given access to the archives and we realised how much fantastic material there was, it's turned into an exhibition that's taken over the whole museum.

"Speaking personally, I really feel like I've got to know Dame Vera the person through looking at all of her personal possessions and her objects and the creative artwork that she did." 

Dame Vera Lynn Exhibition at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft (Picture: Sam Moore).
Dame Vera Lynn Exhibition at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft (Picture: Sam Moore).

The exhibition in Ditchling, where Dame Vera owned a home from 1944, also reveals works of art by the Forces' Sweetheart who, perhaps unknown to many, was an enthusiastic artist for much of her life. There are 20 pieces on display highlighting her skill at creating portraits and still-life paintings that command attention.

Anyone interested in seeing the exhibition can visit ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk for ticket information. Alternatively, if they cannot visit in person, there is a virtual tour.