Shortly before her death in June, Dame Vera Lynn surprised and delighted residents of Canford Chase with her response to a card they made and sent for her 103rd birthday.
As lockdown approached in mid-March, staff and residents decided to cheer themselves up by decorating a birthday card with a heartfelt greeting and a montage of photos showing them holding yellow flowers.
“It was a rather wet and grey afternoon and everyone was naturally apprehensive about lockdown,” recalled Companionship Team Leader Julie Wathen. “Vera Lynn had just put out a public message, as her birthday was a couple of days later, encouraging everyone in Britain to ‘keep smiling through’, as she’d sung in the lyrics of We’ll Meet Again.”
“We decided to create a card for her as a fun activity to cheer us all up. I felt she was a great role model again for these troubled times and one our residents could really relate to. Her message about smiling seemed especially appropriate for us to rally behind.”
The greeting in the card wished Vera a very happy birthday, stating: ‘Here at Canford Chase, you will be pleased to know we are still smiling through.’
Julie researched a contact address in East Sussex for Vera Lynn and posted the card that day, not expecting a reply.
Three months on, all at the home were thrilled to receive a letter from the famous lady herself, typed and sent by a personal assistant, and addressed to ‘all the residents at Canford Chase’.
It read: “Thank you so much for the beautiful handmade birthday card, which took pride of place on my mantelpiece. It was very special to see your happy faces and to know that you ‘keep smiling through’. In these difficult times, it’s so important to smile and the beautiful yellow flowers in your photos are bright and cheery.
“I send you all my very best wishes and thank you again for taking the trouble to produce such a very special birthday card.”
Resident Doris Storey, who celebrated her 101st birthday in lockdown just after Dame Vera became 103, said: “It was so lovely that we did the card and photoshoot, and that Vera Lynn replied. She would obviously have had lots of cards.”
Sadly, Vera Lynn passed away not long after, creating the possibility that her note to Canford Chase was one of the last messages she sent to her fan base. This prompted extensive media coverage of the home’s correspondence with her, including stories in the national press and an interview on the BBC involving Doris and Home Manager Charlotte Wilson.