Alongside Noël Coward, I figured we should also have a song from Vera Lynn, a singer who will be linked forever in the English consciousness with World War II, when she was the nation’s biggest star. She is best known for rousing patriotic anthems like “There’ll Always Be An England,” “We’ll Meet Again,” and “The White Cliffs of Dover,” but I’m a lot more impressed by this gorgeous ballad about a being out on a perfect date, one night in London. (We usually think of Paris and Rome as the most romantic cities of Europe, but I’d suggest that London has a lot to recommend it in the romance department as well.)
The other reason that I wanted to post a song from Vera Lynn was to get everyone to think for a moment about the Blitz. For more than eight months in 1940 and 1941, the German Air Force (the Luftwaffe) sent nightly raids to bomb major urban centres in Britain, about a dozen in total, but with a special focus on London. The raids sometimes focused on strategic military and industrial targets, but they were also in large part designed to terrorize and demoralize British civilians. Some 40,000 British civilians were killed in total (about half of them in London, which at one stretch was bombed for 76 consecutive nights) and more than 1,000,000 houses in London alone were damaged or destroyed over the eight months, but — according to the national legend — the British remained stoical and undismayed throughout the ordeal.
In any case, I bring this up because 70 years later, the Blitz is still surprisingly prominent in the public consciousness. It turns up in British movies and TV shows and novels and advertisements all the time — I’ve been in the UK for a month now and have probably seen a dozen representations of the Blitz in this time. It’s worth asking: what is it about the Blitz that has made it so continuously appealing to the British over the course of 70 years? The British have much to be proud of, but why does this moment in particular stand out for them? (We might similarly ask: why did the Americans make so many movies about Vietnam in the 1980s and 1990s, but almost none since 2001?)
Vera Lynn, by the way, is still alive and well, now 94 years old. She released a Greatest Hits album in 2009 which, amazingly, went to the top of the charts in the UK, making her the oldest living artist to have a Number One record. Clearly there’s something going on in the British present that is making them nostalgic for this particular moment in the British past. Thoughts?