It was a Sunday 5th April, two weeks into lockdown. A daunting time. We were still rabbit-in-the-headlights about what was happening to us and what the future may hold. Boris Johnson, our prime minister, had just been hospitalised with corona-virus and the peak of the disease had yet to arrive.
In the midst of this, the Queen gave a rallying call to the nation. She ended her speech with these words:
“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
Immediately afterwards Twitter was awash, even from those with a republican tendency, with how everyone found themselves a little choked as Her Maj made this reference to the wartime song, We’ll Meet Again, sung by the nation’s sweetheart, Dame Vera Lynn.
This song is etched into the national psyche. People of my grandparent’s generation were deeply touched by it and always sung along whenever it was played. As a child we made fun of it as “old person’s music”. But as an adult I can see the poignancy of the words, and of other favourites, to a nation that had been at war for six years.
The day after the Queen’s speech I found myself continually humming We’ll Meet Again. As the sacrifices being made to stem the flow of corona-virus echoed the wartime spirit, the song now touched our hearts.
For all the significant anniversaries since the end of the Second World War, Dame Vera was always on stage, singing away with the veterans. For the 75th anniversary of VE Day, thanks to the lockdown, all the large concerts and celebrations were cancelled. Instead the BBC put on a socially distanced concert from the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
Of course, the finale had to be We’ll Meet Again. Eschewing celebrity, the BBC spliced together a montage of ordinary people singing the song, their ethnicities representing modern Britain. My husband and I both had tears in our eyes as we watched it.
Three weeks after the Queen’s speech, my Dad died, having contracted the dreaded corona-virus in his care home. As I wrote the eulogy for his funeral, I referred to her address, ending the piece with “we will meet again”.
Normally I can never remember the words to a song but for this one I wanted to be able to sing it, not just hum it. I downloaded the song and listened to it over and over, until I picked up the lyrics. I imagined myself singing it to my Dad at his burial.
Yesterday, Dame Vera Lynn passed away, at the grand old age of 103. How fitting that this coincided with the 80th anniversary of Charles De Gaulle’s rallying cry to the French resistance as France fell to the Nazis. As the Red Arrows and their French counterparts, La Patrouille, performed a flypast above London to mark the occasion, they flew for Dame Vera too.
Once again, the song was played on every news bulletin, even on CNN. Each time tears welled in my eyes.
I mourn for my father, for our pre-pandemic lives and I still wonder what the future holds.
The song is as relevant in 2020 as it was in 1940.
You can watch the BBC VE Day 75 version of We’ll Meet Again here:
And for Dame Vera at her best: