Yesterday Dame Vera Margaret Lynn celebrated her 102nd birthday. Born in the middle of the First Great War she became the “Forces Sweetheart” in Second World War and continued her performing career until 1995. She has had ships, trains, and streets named after her; she spearheaded a memorial to The Animals of War in Hyde Park; and she has worked for charities dedicated to veterans, disable children and breast cancer. And at 100 she became the oldest artist to release an album that topped the UK charts.
To celebrate both her birthday and her remarkable career I’ve picked a song that like her began life during the First World War and became a favourite during the Second conflict of that name. Lili Marlene was a poem written by Hans Leip when he was conscripted into Imperial German Army and sent to the Eastern Front. In 1938 Norbert Schultze set it to music and it was recorded by Lale Anderson the following year. In one of those queer strokes of history it became one of the most popular songs of the period with both Allied and Axis forces.
In Stanley Krammer’s powerful Judgment at Nuremberg Marlene Dietrich and Spencer Tracy are walking through the rubble of the war-torn streets of Nuremberg. As they approach a bar they hear men inside singing Lili Marleen in German. Dietrich begins to sing along with the song, translating a few lyrics for Tracy, referring to the German lyrics as “much darker” than the English.
In one of those queer strokes of irony Lili Marlene/Lili Marleen became one of the most popular songs of the War with both Allied and Axis forces.
Very appropriately for our Island August 7th is Lighthouse Day. We have 63 of them on the Island – 35 are still active and 7 are designated as National Historic Sites.