British singer Vera Lynn died last week at the incredible age of 103. Her career spanned seven decades, but it was her World War II–era songs like “We’ll Meet Again” and “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” that made her a cultural icon by providing strength and comfort to soldiers during the conflict. “My songs reminded the boys what they were really fighting for,” she once said. “Precious personal things rather than ideologies.”
In 1978, when Roger Waters was writing The Wall, which was partially inspired by his father’s death in the war, his thoughts turned to Vera Lynn and how she embodied a very different time in England’s history. This reflection led to the tender ballad “Vera,” which comes midway through the album, when the narrator of the story, disillusioned rock star Pink, comes across the World War II movie The Battle of Britain on the television.
“Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?” he sings. “Remember how she said that/We would meet again/Some sunny day?/Vera, Vera/What has become of you?” (The song is a mere 81 seconds long. Above is a video of it, paired with images of Lynn and soldiers in World War II.)
At nearly the exact same time, Stanley Kubrick was hard at work adapting Stephen King’s 1977 horror novel The Shining into a movie starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. It’s a book about an alcoholic writer, Jack Torrance, who’s driven to madness by the spirits of a remote haunted Colorado hotel. The book ends with Torrance dying when the building’s boiler explodes, but Kubrick changed it so that he freezes to death in a hedge maze and becomes one of the many ghosts haunting the hotel. The final image is a photo on a wall in the hotel of Torrance attending a July 4th party in 1921, somehow looking just as he did the day he died more than 50 years later.
Like The Wall, The Shining is about how personal traumas from our past never truly leave us. And Kubrick wanted to pair the ghostly final image of Torrance in 1921 with the perfect song. He settled on Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again.” Much like Waters, he felt it typified a bygone era. Unlike Waters, however, he was old enough to actually remember when it was new.
The renewed attention — especially a major rock band wondering “does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?” — must have seemed quite bizarre to Lynn herself. At the time The Wall came out, she was still very much in the public eye, and she even hosted a popular BBC variety series that went off the air just a few years earlier. What nobody could have predicted is that she’d live another 41 years and make it to 103. She even outlived the author of her New York Times obituary by four years. She was one of the last living singers who had songs on the charts in the 1940s, and a pivotal cultural figure to the Greatest Generation. To answer a question posed by Waters many years ago, she’s remembered by many.