The vicar of Dame Vera Lynn's local church says she had a Christ-like quality of encouraging people and bringing good news into their lives and throughout her final years.
Dame Vera Lynn died on Thursday, aged 103. She was most well-known for singing 'We'll Meet Again' and for boosting morale among British troops during the Second World War through her music and radio show.
She would sing in the London underground to people sheltering from bombs, visit expectant mothers in hospital and announce newborn babies to their fathers over the radio
For decades she lived in Ditchling in East Sussex, where she sometimes attended the local Anglican church, especially on Remembrance Sunday, and where her own life will be remembered when the village is allowed to meet again.
Rev David Wallis, the vicar at St Margaret's church, told Premier he met Dame Vera not long after he moved into the parish thirteen years ago, when she was already 90.
"She was very, very welcoming. The first time I met her really to spend some time with her was when she opened our church fair, which wasn't that long after we arrived. It was such a terrible wet, rainy day but she turned up nevertheless and opened the fair with real enthusiasm. Then what was brilliant was that she stayed the whole day, she sat under an umbrella for the whole day during the fair and we set up a chair next to her so people could go and sit with her and have a chat and it was amazing. She was so committed to stay for the entire day!"
Rev David described the singer as a very easy person to talk to, "warm and encouraging" and "dedicated." He added that her death "really will leave a huge gap in our community."
Hundreds of people would come to the church's remembrance service, largely because of her, with Dame Vera often attending events in London and then returning to make her local event special, showing "tremendous stamina" well into her nineties. In terms of her hymn-singing, the vicar says she didn't intimidate: "she didn't go full volume in the pews. Much as people might have loved her to!"
Rev David said of her own beliefs: "I think she had a very open mind about faith. She had quite a background of a mixture of faiths. I know that her father was a Catholic, her mother was Church of England and her husband was Jewish. This gave her an appreciation of different ways of expressing belief in God and so she was extremely open and spiritually an aware person.
"In many ways, all she had a Christ-likeness because her music was so optimistic. It was so full of hope. The song that she's most famous for, 'We'll meet again,' it really does speak of the hope that we have of being reunited in heaven. It speaks of the resurrection life of Jesus."
Ditchling, Michael Drummon, PA Wire
St Margaret's church currently cannot hold any services due to coronavirus but plans to have a large celebration when it becomes possible, with her songs being sung and the whole village gathered to share memories of her.
Rev David explained how her generosity and hopefulness was a quality she had from the beginning until the end.
"There's that wonderful Christ-like quality of encouraging people and bringing good news into their lives and she did that in just a very wonderful way - and that never really went away when she moved to Sussex. She became very, very involved with a lot of charities. She was a keen supporter of our local hospice and it just underlies what a caring heart she had and that, as much as her music, I think, will be one of her legacies."