Major new exhibition to celebrate life of Dame Vera Lynn at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft is holding a major new exhibition to celebrate the life of Forces’ Sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn.

Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 12:45 pm

Dame Vera Lynn: An Extraordinary Life will run from Saturday (January 8) to Monday (April 18) next year and will showcase more than 100 objects from the iconic singer’s estate.

Artist Neil Gower has also created a new portrait of Dame Vera to commemorate her life and work and her love of Ditchling, where she lived from the 1940s until she passed away in 2020.

People can buy high-quality prints for £35 at www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk.

Neil Gower's portrait of Dame Vera Lynn, which commemorates the singer's life and work, as well as her love of Ditchling. Picture: Neil Gower/Ditchling Museum.

“I’m highly delighted that this exhibition is taking place,” said Virginia Lewis-Jones, Dame Vera Lynn’s daughter, adding that it was ‘right and proper’ it should start at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft.

“I look forward to the opening, and we hope it brings lots of interest and joy to the people who come and visit,” she said.

Steph Fuller, director and CEO of the museum said it had been ‘an incredibly exciting exhibition to put together’.

“Displaying her personal items including the diaries and correspondence really brings Dame Vera to life for a new generation, and it’s been a privilege to be able to work with her family to do that,” he said.

Vera Lynn rehearsing in London for her radio show in 1956. Picture by Alamy.

A Ditchling Museum spokesperson said the exhibition will offer an ‘unparalleled insight into both the public and personal life of the singer, whose songs were crucial in maintaining morale during the Second World War’.

The exhibition will also feature never-before-seen artworks by Dame Vera, who was an enthusiastic painter.

There will be 20 pieces on display, portraits and still-lifes, which she painted at her London home after the Second World War, and in Ditchling.

“The exhibition will chronicle the nine decades Dame Vera spent in the public eye, from her early days as a singer, to her wartime service in the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), through to her extensive post-war entertainment career and charitable works,” said the museum spokesperson.

“Extraordinary objects detailing Dame Vera’s early life as a singer and dancer include the feather dress made by her mother and the tiara she wore when performing in Madame Harris’ Kracker Kabaret Kids, the touring singing troupe she left school to join at just 11 years old.”

Her 1930s wage book will be on display too, alongside her ballet and tap shoes.

There will also be a copy of a top secret instruction from King George VI for Vera Lynn to perform at HRH Princess Elizabeth II’s 16th birthday in 1942.

During World War Two Dame Vera toured Egypt, India and Burma, first with the ENSA and then under the management of the Army.

Photos of her with troops will be on show and visitors will be able to read letters sent into her radio show Sincerely Yours, which connected servicemen with their loved ones at home.

Dame Vera’s secret diary from her three-month tour through Burma in 1944 will also be shown to the public for the first time.

People will be able to see her Burma Star and War Medal as well as the military shorts she wore when performing to Allied troops.

Other highlights from Dame Vera’s wardrobe will be on display like her handbags, gloves, hats and shoes, as well as a black velvet dress she wore in 1952 when she appeared on the front of the New Musical Express.

Posters, playbills, gold discs and awards, including her 1959 Ivor Novello and her 2018 Classic BRIT Lifetime Achievement Award will be at the exhibition.

Dame Vera Lynn’s commitment to charity work and her patronage of Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft will be acknowledged through a number of her medals for services to the nation, as well as her Grand Order of theWater Rats award from

1973.

The new portrait of Dame Vera by Neil Gower was commissioned by Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, following Dame Vera’s death.

Neil based his design on bookplates produced by the St Dominic’s Press in Ditchling, and incorporated Sussex locations Dame Vera loved like the Ditchling village church St Margaret’s and the Seven Sisters.

Visit www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk to find out more.

There is currently a project that is raising funds to build a permanent memorial to Dame Vera on the iconic White Cliffs of Dover.