Arts & Culture
by Aspect County

Dame Vera Lynn – An Extraordinary Life

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft is delighted to announce a major new exhibition celebrating one of Britain’s most beloved performers, Dame Vera Lynn whose songs were crucial in maintaining morale during the Second World War. Running 8 January – 18 April 2022 Dame Vera Lynn: An Extraordinary Life will showcase over 100 objects from the estate of the Forces’ Sweetheart’, including numerous previously unseen personal items. Also on display will be a new portrait of Dame Vera by Neil Gower, commemorating the entertainer’s life and work, and her love of Ditchling, where she lived from the 1940s until her death in 2020.

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. 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. 

During the Second World War Dame Vera toured Egypt, India and Burma, first with the ENSA and then under the management of the Army. Photographs of the young performer with troops will be on display. Visitors will also be able to read moving letters sent into her radio show Sincerely Yours, which connected servicemen with their loved ones at home. Dame Vera’s secret leather diary from her three-month tour through Burma in 1944 will also be shown to the public for the first time, alongside The Burma Star and War Medal she was awarded in 1985 for her efforts and the iconic military shorts she wore when performing to Allied troops. 

Other highlights from Dame Vera’s wardrobe will include dresses from her countless public appearances such as one in black velvet worn in 1952 when she appeared on the front of the New Musical Express having been the first non-American artist to reach No.1 in the Billboard music chart in the USA. Plus, her wartime wedding suit, displayed alongside the small, surviving tier from her austere cardboard wedding cake from her marriage to musician Harry Lewis in 1941

Posters, playbills, gold discs and awards, including her 1959 Ivor Novello and her 2018 Classic BRIT Lifetime Achievement Award will also be on display, recognising Dame Vera’s outstanding achievements in the entertainment industry. 

The exhibition will also reveal never-before-seen artworks by Dame Vera, who was an enthusiastic painter for much of her life. There will be 20 works on display, comprising portraiture and still-life painted at her London home, following the Second World War, and at Ditchling. 

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 the Water Rats award from 1973. Dame Vera was an active participant in village life — photographs of her at various events in the museum’s 36-year history will be displayed, alongside an original pen and ink cartoon for Freight magazine and photograph of her participating in the Ban the Lorries’ Protest in March 1973

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft
Lodge Hill Lne, Ditchling
East Sussex BN6 8SP