The Kiwi keeping Vera Lynn’s war stories alive
AKiwi woman has made it her mission to keep the music of ‘‘forces’ sweetheart’’ Vera Lynn alive.
Vicki Lee tours the country performing the songs Lynn made famous during World War II.
Although it’s her doing the singing, when she’s on stage she becomes the least important person in the room.
‘‘I think I’ve got the ability to convey the feeling of the songs reasonably well,’’ Lee says.
‘‘But I look out there at the audience sometimes and they’re not really looking at me, they’re looking at this huge backdrop of her.
‘‘They’re just not even in that theatre, they’re in another place in their lives.’’
Lee first encountered Lynn’s music as a child when her parents, big fans of Lynn’s, played it in the house.
But it wasn’t until 2015 that Lee, a professional singer and musician, performed Lynn’s work for the first time.
At each performance, Lee noticed the effect the music was having on audience members, particularly the older generation.
Later that year, Lee travelled to England to meet Lynn and ask her permission to cover her songbook in New Zealand. Dame Malvina Major, who had an existing relationship with Lynn, helped make the connection happen.
Permission was granted and, with the support of Rotary New Zealand, Lee took the wartime tunes around the country.
Earlier this year she visited Lynn to celebrate the musical legend’s 100th birthday, and perform a concert to raise money for Lynn’s charity.
‘‘She is so humble, she is just grounded and humble. She can’t believe all the attention the world has given her for her birthday,’’ Lee says.
Lynn became known as the ‘‘forces’ sweetheart’’ for her performances at military bases and camps during World War II.
She toured Egypt, India and Burma performing the likes of We’ll Meet Again and The White Cliffs of Dover for the troops and, along with the Queen of the time, was one of the few women to remain in London through the Blitz.
Her music, then, is associated with some powerful memories but often it takes a performance from Lee to bring them up for her audience.
During her shows, Lee makes a point of mingling with the audience at half time to ask them about any stories the music has reminded them of.
She’s collecting the yarns with the hope of publishing them in a book one day.
They can be by turns heartbreaking and hilarious.
She’s met one of New Zealand’s three remaining Spitfire pilots, who told her he remembered seeing Lynn perform at the Palladium in London and on the back of trucks at different aerodromes when he was training.
Lee says she’s privileged to be trusted with the stories of New Zealand’s war generation.
‘‘We owe so much to that generation ... while they’re alive, we owe them that respect. We must never forget, which is why I’m so driven to keep the concert going, we’ve got this window of opportunity before they’re gone.’’
British wartime singer Vera Lynn
Vera Lynn and Kiwi musician Vicki Lee